Whether you are young or old, male or female, the HPV virus can affect your life in many ways. Having a handle on the basic facts will help you stay healthy and protect yourself. HPV has many strains, each behaving differently, some more serious than others to your health.
Most commonly, HPV - the human papillomavirus - causes common warts. Many people, at some time in their lifetime, will suffer from this usually harmless, but sometimes embarrassing skin condition. These warts appear on the hands and feet, generally. The strain of HPV that causes common warts can be spread fairly easily, from shared surfaces in public showers and restrooms. It is wise to take precautions such as wearing sandals in a public shower to avoid contact with the shared floor surfaces. Should you contract a case of common warts, however, your doctor can help you get rid of the infection.
More serious are the strains of HPV that cause genital warts or other conditions. These are referred to collectively as 'Genital HPV' infections. It is believed that currently, about 20 million people in the United States alone carries at least one strain of genital HPV, most without knowing that they are a carrier. These strains, while being silent for years in the human body, can affect you in these ways:
You may develop genital warts from the HPV virus. Although many people do not develop surface warts on the genital area, or never notice it, other people do have embarrassing and uncomfortable lesions. Although there are treatments for these, there is not a cure - this means that these lesions can be very persistent, seeming to go away with medication only to come back again and again.
Because many people are carriers of HPV without knowing it, they can unknowingly pass the HPV infection on to others. In women, contracting HPV can eventually lead to cervical cancer. About 70% of cervical cancers are believed to begin with HPV infection - usually many years earlier! It is important for women to be screened regularly for cervical cancer, during the annual exam with a PAP test. The earlier cervical cancers are caught, the better chance of successful treatment and cure. Two vaccines currently exist on the market for women, which have been shown to prevent several strains of HPV infection that lead to cervical cancer. If you are sexually active, or if you are a parent or guardian of a teen who is sexually active, you may wish to ask your doctor about these vaccines.
If you are a male, you are not immune to the affects of HPV infection! First, you can be a carrier and infect any partner with whom you come into sexual contact. Secondly, it is thought that some forms of penile cancer are related to HPV infection. If you are a gay male, you may also be susceptible to anal cancers related to HPV.
Anyone who engages in oral sexual contact can also acquire HPV. This can in rare instances lead to cancers of the throat, neck, and head. It can also lead to a respiratory infection that can become a very serious condition.
Again, there is no cure for HPV. But you can keep yourself safe by practicing safe sex, being educated with current information on the disease, and having regularly health checkups