What is HPV?
HPV is the shorthand name for the human papillomavirus, a collection of over 100 different strains of a type of infectious disease. The virus is common among the general population, and you may have no idea that you’re infected because in a great many cases there are no symptoms and the infection clears naturally.
HPV lives in the epithelial cells close to the surface of your skin, and around 60 kinds of HPV live in these conditions. The rest prefer warm, moist areas such as the mouth and throat, and genitalia.
Some forms of HPV cause warts to appear on your skin, and although most strains don’t lead to serious health problems, there are several that can cause cervical cancer.
How is HPV transmitted?
You catch HPV from coming into contact with someone’s skin when they are carrying the infection. HPV doesn’t infect the blood, and you won’t catch it from taking part in everyday activities like swimming; you can only catch it via skin-to-skin contact.
The main form of transmission is through sexual activity, including oral and anal contact. Because the virus lives in the skin, using a condom doesn’t make you immune from the chance of catching HPV. The only way to avoid HPV is to abstain from sex altogether.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
In some cases, the infection causes warts to start appearing on your skin. These warts could appear many months after the initial contact when you notice bumps or small growths in the genital area.
In many cases, there aren’t any symptoms, so you wouldn’t know you had HPV. The problem is that some strains of HPV cause change to cells in the cervix that can become cancerous.
How is HPV diagnosed?
If you have genital warts, your OB/GYN may be able to diagnose HPV by examining the warts. She can also apply a vinegar solution to the genitals, which turns affected skin white and allows her to see any flat warts that might be forming.
You can combine this test with your regular Pap smear. If you’re over 30, you should also have a DNA test at the same time to check for the presence of strains of HPV that are known to cause cancer.
What treatments are available for HPV?
Your OB/GYN may recommend one of a range of treatments for HPV:
- Cryotherapy, which freezes warts with liquid nitrogen
- Cone biopsy to remove infected cells
- Laser therapy to burn away infected cells
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP)
Your OB/GYN may also prescribe a medicated cream you can use to treat genital warts.
To avoid the risks of HPV infection, make sure you have regular checkups at Galasso, Hirsch & Russell M.D.s, PC. Call the clinic today, or book an appointment online.