Each month (starting this month) I thought it would be nice to highlight a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and give a little more than just the basic definition that is found in the sex dictionary. Along with identifying the transmission, we will also identify symptoms, treatment, prevention, screening, and any other information that may be relevant in the discussion (possibly any media coverage, or public service announcements (PSAs) recently aired). So….without further ado…this month’s STI is… (space for dramatic effect)
HPV (Part I)
Genital Human Papillomavirus is known as HPV, the virus that is responsible for genital warts and some forms of cancer. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect not only the genitals of both males and females but also the throat and month, making HPV the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States. It is also important to note that people can be infected with more than on strain of HPV at a time.
HPV can be passed through both intercourse and oral sex (so any combination works… genital -mouth contact, penile-vaginal penetration, penile-anal penetration) and majority of people infected do not realize they are carrying the virus. Basically, HPV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
While most individuals will not develop any symptoms or health problems from HPV, there are potential health risks such as genital warts and cervical cancer (or other HPV-related cancers).
Genital warts can appear as a small bump or a group or cluster of small bumps on the genital area and can possibly resemble cauliflower (be it the penis or the vulva). The bumps can appear to be flat or raised, and can differ in size and shape. Normally these bumps are painless and have a flesh-like color. Most outbreaks appear within weeks or months of contact with an infected person, and can be diagnosed by a Healthcare provider during a visit. Without treatment it is possible that genital warts can go away, remain unchanged, or increase in number and size. It is important to note that genital warts do NOT cause cancer.
Cervical Cancer is another risk associated with HPV. Most people do not have symptoms until the cancer becomes advance and is harder to treat. It is recommended that women get a pap smear once a year to screen for possibilities of cervical cancer that is associated with HPV.
The pap smear (cervical screening) are checking for cervical dysplasia (or changes in the cells on your cervix). The changes are categorized as: Low- Grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (LSIL), High-Grade squamous intraepithelial lesion (HSIL), and Possibly cancerous (malignant).
There are various treatments for genital warts, from a cream that is applied directly to infected site to freezing off the warts. For cancer, most health care providers monitor the changes in cells over a period of time (you may have appointments every 3-6 months) to insure that the changes in the cervical cells do not progress into cancer. In about 90% of individuals that do have HPV, the body’s immune system will clear up the virus in approximately two years, however there is always a possibility of recurrence.
With all that said…there is prevention against HPV. Gardasil (Cervix is the generic brand…does the same thing) is a vaccine that is given in a sequence of three shots that protects against four strains of HPV. These four strains are those that are most commonly associated with genital warts and cervical cancer.
Stay tune for media coverage…HPV (Part II)
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – [Center for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC]
Cervical Dysplasia - [National Institute of Health – NIH]
Screening Guidelines for Sexually Transmitted Disease – [About.com]
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