What is HPV?

What is the human papilloma virus?

Otherwise known as HPV, this is the name given to a group of viruses that can lead to warts and pre-cancerous conditions in male and female genitalia, anus, throat or mouth. Pre-cancerous means that a change in the cells might have occurred that could turn into cancer if left untreated. Human papilloma virus (HPV) affects the skin and the membranes that line the body. Did you know that there are over 100 types of HPV but only some are considered high risk?

So, how is HPV spread?

The virus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections predominantly passed on through sexual intercourse and skin contact with the genital area through oral or anal sex. You can significantly reduce the risk of contracting HPV by using condoms. Genital HPV can be spread through oral, anal, vaginal sex and by sharing sex toys.

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How prevalent is HPV?

Absolutely anyone who has ever been sexually active is at risk from having the virus, even from the very first sexual encounter. It is an incredibly common virus, with as many as 80% of the sexually active population having it at some point during their lives. Most people will have no idea that they are infected and will experience no symptoms. HPV often goes away naturally over time, however during this time, genital warts may occur or pre-cancerous changes.

What about a cure?

Currently, there is no cure for HPV. The focus must be on prevention, of which there are several factors:

The HPV vaccine

Using condoms

Limiting the number of sexual partners

Whilst there is no cure, it is essential for men and women to understand their bodies and see a GP with any anal or genital symptoms they may notice. To detect any pre-cancerous changes, it is essential for women to attend regular cervical screening.

Whilst there are more than 100 types of virus, around 40 HPV infections actually affect the genitals. The infections are very common and extremely contagious. Maintaining your sexual health is key to your overall health, so it makes sense to regularly check yourself for other possible common infections. For Chlamydia testing kits Bexley, visit bexleysexualhealth.org/home_sti_kits

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What happens when you’re infected?

Contracting an HPV infection can lead to developing genital warts. This is the most common form of STI in the country.

Within the cervix, some tissue growth can become abnormal and along with other changes to the cells, can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated.

Currently, girls aged between 12 and 13 are provided with an HPV vaccination which helps to protect against the types of HPV virus that can cause cancer. Older women from the age of 25 are offered regular cervical smear tests to check for any abnormal cell growth in the cervix caused by the human papilloma virus.


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