Everything You Need To Know About HPV

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HPV is one of the most common STIs worldwide, and most people will get it at some point in their life. Many people don’t know that they have it due to a lack of symptoms, and the condition usually goes away by itself without causing any health concerns. 

Our guide to HPV will take you through everything you need to know about the virus, including how it’s transmitted, HPV symptoms, and possible health concerns caused by HPV in women and men. We’ll also take you through any testing and treatment options.

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Everything You Need To Know About HPV

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection, transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. 

HPV is a group of over 100 viruses, and is considered to be the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the CDC.                                                                                                                                                                                               

HPV is very easy to contract, usually affecting the mouth, throat, and genital area. In most people, HPV doesn’t cause serious health concerns, however some strains of the virus can cause genital warts or cancer.

The HPV virus may be the one of the most common STIs, however you may not know that you have it as HPV usually does not present with symptoms. Most people will have some form of HPV throughout their lifetime without knowing about it.

How do you get HPV

The HPV virus is very easy to catch, mostly affecting the mouth, throat, and genitals. It can be transmitted by:

  • Any skin-on-skin contact of the genital area
  • Vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Sharing sex toys

You don’t have to sex with a lot of people, or have penetrative sex to be at risk of contracting HPV. It is very easy to catch, and could be transmitted the first time you have any sexual contact.

Conditions caused by HPV

Most of the time, people live with the HPV virus without knowing it. It usually does not cause any health problems. However, some strains of the HPV virus are linked to various health conditions, including:

  • Genital warts
  • Abnormal cell changes that sometimes lead to cancers
  • Cervical cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Vulval cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Penile cancer

HPV Symptoms

Most people with HPV won’t experience any symptoms or develop any health concerns. Many people won’t even know that they have it.  However, some cases may develop warts at some point. These may include:

  • Genital warts 
  • Genital warts may present as small bumps or flat lesions. They usually don’t hurt, but may itch.
  • Common warts
  • Common warts usually appear on the hands, fingers, or elbows, and present as rough, raised bumps.
  • Plantar warts 
  • Plantar warts typically appear on the feet or heels and are usually hard, grainy bumps.
  • Flat warts
  • Flat warts can appear anywhere on the body and are usually slightly raised, smooth lesions that are slightly darker than the surrounding skin.

HPV in Women

Whilst, most of the time, the HPV virus won’t cause any major health concerns, some strains are linked to abnormal cell changes in women that lead to various cancers. Regular smear tests will help to detect any abnormalities early. In the UK, it is recommended that women over the age of 25 should have a smear test every 3 years, and women over 50 should be tested every 5 years. Women over the age of 65 need only be tested if 1 of their 3 previous tests was abnormal.

HPV in Men

Whilst HPV is common in both men and women, related health problems are less common in men than in women. However, there are some groups at a higher risk of developing HPV-related health concerns; uncircumcised men, those with a weak immune system, and those that engage in homosexual sexual activities. 

Like in women, the HPV virus can cause changes at the cellular level that can lead to cancer. In men, this may be penile cancer, anal cancer and throat cancer. Unlike with women, there is currently no screening test to check for HPV or HPV-related disease. However, HPV-related cancers are not very common in men.

Testing for HPV

For women, HPV testing is a part of cervical screening. This is done by taking a small sample of the cervix which is then tested for HPV and abnormal cells. Cervical screening is offered to women in the UK between the ages of 25 and 64.

Unfortunately, there is currently no test to detect HPV in men.

Is there a cure for HPV?

Currently, there is no treatment or cure for HPV, however most HPV cases will go away on its own, cleared by your body within two years. In most cases, the virus will not cause any health concerns. 

However, if HPV causes issues such as genital warts, treatment will be required. Similarly, if the HPV virus causes abnormal cell changes in the cervix, as determined by cervical screening, your doctor will advise a course of treatment. 

STI Testing with Your Sexual Health

Whilst there may not currently be a dedicated HPV test, it’s still a good idea to be regularly tested for other STIs. 

Like HPV, there are various STIs that don’t present with symptoms (or have very mild symptoms that can be attributed to something else), and you might unknowingly be passing them on to sexual partners. 

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