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What is HPV?

Human PapillomaVirus (HPV) is an infection that does not always give characteristic symptoms. Many people do not realize that the problem applies to them and that they can pass the virus to others. What are the most common signs of the infection? How do we treat and prevent it?

Human papillomavirus (HPV)is transmitted by skin-to-skin genital contact – full sexual intercourse is unnecessary for infection. Unlike most sexually transmitted diseases, using a condom does not protect against infection – it only reduces the risk.

There are over 100 strains of HPV. Typically, the immune system fights off most strains, and they do not cause any severe symptoms. Nevertheless, some strains can cause warts on the hands, feet, or around the genitals, mouth, and throat. These strains are known as low-risk viruses. However, there are high-risk strains that can potentially lead to cancer in the cervix, throat, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or tonsils in the future.

HPV – How Can You Get Infected?

Many reasons may increase the risk of HPV infection. These include:

If you discover any disturbing signs of an infection – visit your doctor.

What Are The Symptoms of HPV Infection?

The symptoms of HPV infectionTrusted Source depend on the type of the virus. In total, there are over 100 strains of HPV. Some are harmless to health, causing only unsightly skin changes, so-called warts, but some have oncogenic properties (causing cancerTrusted Source). This means that they cause carcinogenetic changes (the beginning of cancer formation, most often cervical cancer) in the squamous epithelial cells of the cervix, leading to cancer.

The body's natural defense response may also cause HPV infection symptoms. The virus enters the multilayer epithelium and is more harmful when the structure of the epithelium has been compromised. It infects cells, but in most people, natural antibodies (our immune system) can defeat it in the next two years. Then, HPV may not cause any symptoms. However, a weaker immune system may not fight it at all.

HPV – Skin Symptoms

The first symptoms that can be seen are related to skin lesions. Contrary to appearances, they are the least bothersome because they are formed after infection with a low-oncogenic strain of the human papillomavirus. These are usually genital wartsTrusted Source. They appear in intimate places, such as the labia, groin, or anus, from a few weeks to several months after infection with HPV. They are also less common in the mouth and throat.

Although warts and genital warts are not life-threatening, they are unsightly and cause discomfort – they can bleed and scar. They come in various sizes and cauliflower shapes. They should be laser removed or frozen.

HPV Virus Symptoms How to Recognize?

Some HPV symptoms can mimic other types of infection, so be vigilant. For example, warts in the larynx cause sore throat, hoarseness, coughing, and difficulty swallowing. If you experience symptoms resembling those of a cold or flu that persist for an extended period – visit a specialist for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection testing.

HPV Virus Symptoms of Advanced Stage

The symptoms of HPV infection, when you suspect infection with the human papillomavirus of the high-oncogenic variety, occur much later and, unfortunately, often concern cervical cancerTrusted Source development. It can develop even up to 10 years after infection.

The symptoms include:

Contrary to popular belief, oncogenic epithelial changes caused by long-term HPV infection affect not only the cervix, vagina, or vulva – but also the anus, throat, larynx, tongue, or neck.

If the virus infects the throatTrusted Source, it can give you signs like:

HPV: What Is, Information, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

HPV – Asymptomatic Infection

As previously mentioned, with HPV, symptoms may not always be presentTrusted Source. Just as not all virus strains are highly oncogenic, not all cause symptoms. This does not mean that the virus is not dangerous. On the contrary, it can be more wreaking hidden havoc in the body and being transferred to subsequent, unaware sexual partners.

Persistent, unrecognized HPV infection lasting 7-10 years can lead to the development of cervical cancer. Fortunately, the disease develops slowly, so there is a long time to perform tests.

HPV Virus in Men

Many diseases can be caused by the virus, including the most dangerous head and neck cancersTrusted Source in men. Infections in men are often asymptomatic until the disease progresses.

Infections with HPV are usually causing: warts of the respiratory tract and cancer of the oral cavity, salivary glands, conjunctiva, larynx, esophagus, and anal cancer. Genital warts such as condylomas acuminate, flat warts, giant warts, and penile cancer may also occur in the genital area.

HPV in Women

HPV is most commonly associated with cervical cancer. Indeed, long-term observations show that almost 100% of diagnosed cases of this cancer are related to infection with high-oncogenic HPV variants. The virus also causes vulvar and vaginal cancer in women. Regardless, women are also at risk for all other HPV-related diseases.

HPV and Pregnancy

We don't have enough scientific data to state that women infected with every type of HPV can have problems with natural pregnancyTrusted Source and carrying it to term and that HPV may interfere with in vitro fertilization in both female and male patients. It all depends on the individual medical situation of the patients.

Pregnant HPV-infected patients with oncogenic risk should be under the care of a gynecologist – during pregnancy, the risk of developing changes in the cervix increases.

Pregnant women with genital warts have a low risk of transmitting HPV to their babies during vaginal delivery. Cesarean section should be performed only when diagnosing giant condyloma acuminata, which may be an obstacle to delivery.

Oral HPV Test

The HPV virus is transmitted sexually through sexual contact, but its presence is also noted in the oral cavity, giving several characteristic symptoms. They may occur on the tongue, soft palate, and lips' tonsils or mucous membrane.

The appearance of changes allows you to perform a testTrusted Source that you can do at home thanks to convenient swab collection kits. Just collect material from the mucous membrane of the throat or inside of the cheek.

hpv oral test

Perform the test according to the information in the package's description to ensure the result is reliable. The result depends on the quality of the sample and the amount of virus genetic material in it that is submitted for testing.

HPV Virus Test For a Woman

A person should perform the test with appropriate knowledge and medical qualifications. The material is taken directly from the cervix.

Please note that you need to prepare for the test. The sample should not be collected during menstrual bleeding. In addition, a woman should refrain from sexual intercourse at least 24 hours before the scheduled examination. It is also significant to limit hygiene and care activities in the genital area. For example, do not use any vaginal medications or external ointments 48 hours before the swab collection, as this could affect the reliability of the test.

HPV Test for Men

In the case of HPV infection in menTrusted Source affecting the male genitals, the diagnosis involves taking a sample for testing directly from the penis or urethra. Performing a smear is possible at home. The patient receives a specially prepared collection kit. It must be prepared strictly according to the instructions in the manual because it guarantees that the result will be reliable.

If the patient is infected with HPV, the specialist determines the genotypes of the virus. On their basis, the doctor concludes the need to introduce appropriate treatment, especially if high-oncogenic types of papilloma, which pose a high risk of cancer, have been detected.

How to Treat HPV?

Treatment of warts caused by HPV infection is a time-consuming process. Currently, there are many methods to eliminate them. The choice of the appropriate one depends on the number of lesions and their placement. Warts are with prescription medicationsTrusted Source. Another popular way to remove them is curettageTrusted Source, laser burningTrusted Source, or freezing with liquid nitrogenTrusted Source.

Surgery may be necessary to remove precancerous cells caused by high-risk HPV. Depending on the clinical situation and the result of the histopathological examination, the doctor may order the LEEP procedureTrusted Source– the removal of a fragment of the cervix and submission of the collected material for histopathological examination. If cancer is detected, the scope of the operation and possible further treatment should occur in a gynecological oncology clinic.

HPV Virus – Complications

In most cases, HPV infection goes away on its own. Sometimes, HPV causes symptoms in the form of skin lesions. If left untreated, complications can arise.

Possible complicationsTrusted Source of HPV infection:

HPV – Prevention

To effectively defend against low-risk HPV infection, you should avoid direct contactTrusted Source with an infected person with visible warts on the skin. Particular attention should be paid to hand hygieneTrusted Source. You should also wear protective footwear in swimming pools and locker rooms, in saunas, at the gym, or in the shower in hotels.

To prevent sexually transmitted HPV, you must practice safe sexTrusted Source. More sexual partners and unprotected intercourse increase the risk of infection. A suitable method, recommended especially for young people who have not yet started sexual intercourse, is to take the vaccine. It protects against the most oncogenic types of the virus and others that can cause precancerous changes or the formation of genital warts.

Vaccination Against HPV

As mentioned above, treating neoplastic lesions caused by HPV infection can be highly invasive. Therefore, vaccinationTrusted Source as a prophylaxis against many virus types is a better solution.

HPV: What Is, Information, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

HPV Vaccine – Mechanism of Action

The administration of the HPV vaccine activates the humoral response of the immune system. This means that the body produces antibodies to neutralize specific types of HPV, triggering an immune response that protects against the development of active infection and dysplastic changes preceding the cancer process.

HPV Vaccine – Which One to Choose?

The human papillomavaccine is not mandatory in most countries. However, vaccination is recommended. There are three types of vaccinesTrusted Source:

Talking to your doctor about selecting the appropriate vaccine is crucial, as each is very efficient. The vaccines require two or three doses, with no more than a year gap between the first and last dose. Each vaccine comes with a comprehensive dosing plan in the package insert. Booster doses are unnecessary since HPV antibodies remain active in the bloodstream for an extended period following vaccination.

HPV Vaccination – For Whom And At What Age?

Due to the route of HPV infection, vaccination should be performed in the first place in people who have not started sexual intercourse. Therefore, girls and boys should be vaccinated from 9 to 14.

Starting sexual intercourse does not preclude the possibility of vaccination against HPV. Vaccination against HPV is also recommended for adults up to 26 years of age who have not been previously vaccinated and for people between 27 and 45 years of age who, according to a medical opinion, will benefit from the vaccination.

The results of many years of research show that the most significant effectiveness in cancer prevention is achieved by the vaccine administered to a group of sexually inactive teenagers.


June 19, 2023
11 minutes read

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