Every conversation on STIs or sexually transmitted infections discusses HIV, and Gonorrhea as health hazards but usually misses out on HPV or Human Papillomavirus. And that’s not how it should be, because HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection 1 and some high-risk HPV strains can lead to certain types of cancers, mainly cervical cancer which is the second most common cancer among Indian women. HPV can also cause vaginal, anal and vulvar cancers in women.
I’ll tell you what happened a year ago when I was having a discussion with some of my friends regarding intimacy and taking precautions in case of multiple sexual partners. We had discussed many things around contraception, sexual wellness, protection but missed out on HPV.
I got to know about HPV from my friend who has been recently diagnosed with HPV-related complications. That led me to learn more about this sexually transmitted infection that is alarmingly common. In fact, nearly all of us who are sexually active could be exposed to it at some point in life.
I was somewhat taken aback after I learned that even teenagers are susceptible to HPV infections. Anyone who has intimate partners needs to be aware of HPV, the ways it spreads and the ways to be protected.
Another reason all of us need to know about HPV is that whenever it comes to a woman’s reproductive health, there aren’t many conversations that quote the right sources or have credible information.
Today, let’s talk about HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus.
Knowing HPV better
Knowing all about HPV, the various types, how it spreads, who is at risk and what are the various preventive measures would help people stay protected.
Did you know that, HPV is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer worldwide? 4
There are over 100 types of HPV. Out of these, typically, HPV can be categorized as high-risk HPV, i.e. the virus that is cancer causing or low-risk HPV i.e. non-cancer causing. At least 14 of the 100 types are high-risk types. 5
Although most HPV infections clear up on their own and most pre-cancerous lesions resolve spontaneously, there is a risk for all women that HPV infection may become chronic and pre-cancerous lesions progress to invasive cervical cancer.
In addition to causing cervical cancer, high-risk HPV can also lead to vaginal and vulvar cancers. Certain low-risk HPV types can also manifest in the form of genital warts – which are small bumps on the genitals
Key HPV Statistics
- HPV infects around 660 million people worldwide. 11
- 80% sexually active men and women get infected with HPV at some points in their lifetime. 12
- A large majority of cervical cancer (more than 95%) is due to the human papillomavirus (HPV). 13
- Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer among Indian women. 14
- Every 5 minutes one individual loses their life due to HPV-related cancers in India. 15
- In India, the mortality rate of HPV related cancers is about 60%. 16
Transmission of HPV
By engaging in vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a carrier of the virus, one can contract HPV. 7 Regardless of whether the affected individual shows symptoms, HPV can still be transmitted. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person.
The virus can spread in many ways- 2
- Age – Genital warts typically occur in teenagers or early adulthood.
- A compromised immunological mechanism has been affected by the disease or illnesses like the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), or medicine that suppresses the immune system.
- Lesions are more prone to develop on skin that has recently been perforated or wounded.
- Coming into direct contact with surfaces that have been exposed to HPV, such as those in pools or bathtubs, can boost the possibility of becoming infected.3
Should people stop being sexually involved to avoid HPV?
No. Almost every sexually active individual may be infected with HPV within days, months, or years later.2 People must take necessary precautions to avoid getting infected. Safe sex practices such as using condoms and dental dams provide a high degree of protection though they do not completely eliminate the possibility of HPV transmission. Regular screening, for example, Pap smear for women is a good way to catch the infection. Getting an HPV vaccines is also one of the ways to prevent HPV. But you should talk to your gynac about the right age and dosage of the vaccine.
HPV infection in itself has no known treatment or cure. However, diseases or cancers caused by HPV can be treated. But there are a few ways in which one can protect themselves from contracting the virus itself. Get in touch with your gynac/doctor to learn about vaccination and take action to safeguard your life.
As you might have understood by now, one cannot ignore HPV, nor can one afford to stay ignorant about it. Talk about HPV with your friends, discuss it as you would talk about other things like dating, relationships or sexual wellness. It’s time we are aware and are protected from HPV.
Learn more about HPV here and talk to an expert on the website to get more information and solve your doubts.
Issued in public interest with MSD India.
This information is for awareness only. Please consult your doctor.