What is HPV?
HPV or Human Papillomavirus refers to a virus that causes warts. It is also the most common sexual transmitted disease today. There are over 100 strains of HPV, most of which are harmless while others are not so harmless. Some of these strains, about 30 are transmitted sexually, which means you can get them by having sex with an infected partner. These strains of the virus will put you at risk for developing cancer and are normally classified as either high or low-risk. High risk HPV are the strain that develops into and causes cancer, which can affect the vagina, cervix, vulva or anus; while low-risk HPV cause genital warts.
HPV virus can be passed on through oral sex, vaginal and anal sex. The viruses can also be transmitted between heterosexual and same-sex partners even when there are no signs or symptoms on the infected partner. Since HPV are viruses and there is no cure, the disease can be passed on years after you or your partner has been exposed to it. You can also contract more than one strain of the virus.
If you are sexually active it is very difficult to avoid getting infected with HPV. As most high-risk HPV strains do not have any visible symptoms, so you will not be able to determine if your partner is infected with HPV. At present, there are only two methods of preventing the transmission of HPV and these are through the HPV vaccines and abstinence. However, there are other less effective ways of preventing the transmission of HPV.
There are two vaccines available to prevent infection by some strains of the HPV viruses, these are Cervarix and Gardasil. Both vaccines protect against HPV 16 and HPV 18, the leading HPV strains that are associated with cancer cases. The vaccine Gardasil also protects against infection with HPV types 6 and 11, which are the strains that cause over 85% of genital warts. The vaccines are for women who have not been exposed to the HPV virus as the vaccines will offer very little benefits to you once you have contracted the types 16 and 18 strains. Gardasil is suitable for females between the ages of 11 through 26. However, the vaccine can be given to a girl as young as 9 years old.
Abstaining from all sexual and skin to skin contact is the only sure way to prevent against the transmission of the HPV viruses.
Condom use is a highly effective method to protect against sexually transmitted infections like HIV, Syphilis and Chlamydia; however, it is likely that condoms can’t fully prevent the transmission of HPV. This is because condoms cannot cover all the genital area and the virus is transmitted by skin to skin contact, like herpes and not through body fluids like other STI. Therefore, you cannot ever have total protection against HPV transmission.
Limit the Number of Sexual Partners
Limiting your amount of sexual partners is another way to help you prevent against the transmission of HPV, as studies have shown that women who have multiple partners have a higher risk of contracting HPV. Another benefit of limiting your sexual partners is, even if you are infected with HPV, you can lower your chances of contracting another strain of the virus or infecting others with the disease.
How do I know if I have HPV, or if I have high-risk HPV?
There are no blood tests available to detect the presence of HPV. And since there are no normal symptoms associated with high-risk HPV, it is hard to know if you have the disease which often results in the infection not being diagnosed. The way that most women know if they have a HPV infection is when they have their normal PAP exam, as doctors may see the changes in the cells of the sample collected. Once the virus has been detected your doctor may ask you to do a HPV DNA test to determine the type of virus present.