HPV Awareness

What is a HPV?

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus and is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is the name of a group of viruses. HPV can be found in both men and women.

It’s a very common infection that is passed through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 100 different types of HPV and 40 of these are passed through sexual contact, whether this is vaginal, oral, or anal.

You can’t get HPV by sitting on a toilet seat, swimming in pool water, or through contact with blood.

The Anal Cancer Foundation reports HPV is present in one in three people and 90% of individuals will come into contact with some form of the virus in their lifetimes. HPV causes over 60,000 cases of anogenital warts and cervical, anal, penile, vulval, vaginal, head and neck, and oral cancers in the UK each year.

Most strains of HPV do not cause any problems and the immune system is able to clear 90% of infections within 2 years. Some strains can lay dormant and appear decades later, this can be due to a lowered immune system.

You can have HPV and not get cancer. There are lower and higher risk types of HPV viruses. Lower risk viruses can cause warts whilst higher risk can cause cancers.

HPV does not have any symptoms and 90% of cases clear up by themselves over a couple of years.

Warts or cancers can be caused when the virus doesn't go away. Just because you get warts does not mean that you will get cancer, as they are caused by different strains of the virus.

Risk Factors for Getting HPV

Anyone can get HPV. However, there are certain things that can increase your likelihood of carrying the HPV virus, such as...

  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Unprotected sex - anal, vaginal, or oral
  • A weakened immune system
  • Having sex with someone who has HPV
  • Sharing sex toys
  • A mother can pass it to her baby during a vaginal delivery. This can cause warts to grow in the baby’s throat and airways

If you have a high-risk HPV then other factors may support the virus to turn into cancer, such as...

  • Smoking
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Sexually transmitted infections e.g. chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
  • Having a lot of children (cervical cancer)
  • Using oral contraception over a long period of time (cervical cancer)
  • Smoking
  • Anal sex (anal cancer)

How Can I Prevent HPV?

There is no cure for HPV, however you can do some things to reduce the chances of contracting the virus, such as…

  • Vaccination For HPV

There are vaccines for both men and women. Since 2008, all females aged between 12 and 13 have been offered two vaccines (given around 6-9 months apart) that can help prevent contracting HPV.

From September 2019, boys aged 12-13 were also offered the HPV vaccine.

If the vaccine is not administered at this point, it’s possible to have the vaccine up to the age of 25.

The Vaccine Knowledge Project at the University of Oxford states the HPV vaccine is expected to prevent about 70% of cervical cancers.

It’s possible that the vaccine can protect against genital warts.

  • No Sexual Contact

Having no sexual or close contact with others may significantly lower your risk of contracting HPV.

  • Use a Condom

Using a condom may reduce your chances of getting HPV, however, condoms are not 100% effective.

Smear Test

In 2015 in the UK, 3,126 women were diagnosed with HPV-associated cervical cancer.

The NHS report that 1 in 20 women will have abnormal cells in their cervix, ranging in severity.

HPV can cause cells within the cervix to become cancerous. Having smear tests regularly means that these cells can be detected and removed before they become cancerous, hence why it’s so important to attend your smear tests.

In Conclusion

HPV is a sexually transmitted group of viruses that can be passed on very easily through skin contact.

Most people who come into contact with HPV can clear the virus over the period of a couple of years.

HPV does not produce any symptoms and it’s likely that someone will only know they’ve contracted the virus if they have warts, abnormal cells, or are diagnosed with certain types of cancer.

Although there is no guarantee that you can prevent yourself from contracting HPV, having no sex, using a condom, and having the vaccine can reduce your chances of getting it. Attending your smears regularly can also detect and remove abnormal cells in your cervix before they turn cancerous.

If you are concerned about HPV then chat to your doctor or nurse about it.


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