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    What is HPV in Women? Symptoms, Vaccine, and Treatment

    Updated 03 February 2023 |
    Published 27 August 2018
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Dr. Anna Klepchukova, Intensive care medicine specialist, chief medical officer, Flo Health Inc., UK
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    The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common infections among sexually active people, and it is the primary cause of cervical cancer. To reduce the risk of getting it, it’s important to learn more about HPV treatment, symptoms and vaccination.

    HPV symptoms

    The virus has about 100 types, and each type has a number.

    Approximately 40 HPV types are sexually transmitted during unprotected sexual intercourse through the mucous membranes and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas. (Even a condom does not give a 100% protection guarantee.) HPV can be passed on by an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy.

    HPV 16 and 18 are known to be high-risk HPV strains because they cause about 75% of cervical cancers. Luckily, they are not as widespread as the others are.

    About 60 HPV types penetrating into the human cells can cause appearance of papillomas (warts), most commonly on hands or feet.

    Sometimes, HPV is asymptomatic, and the person does not even know they are a carrier.

    A person can be infected after contact with the skin of the virus carrier or through shared use of personal hygiene products (if there are micro-injuries on the skin).

    Pay attention to your health. When it comes to the symptoms of HPV, consult your doctor for professional advice.

    How to avoid the human papillomavirus (HPV)

    The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common infections among sexually active people, and it is the primary cause of cervical cancer.

    Choosing condoms as contraception during casual sexual encounters reduces the risk of HPV infection.

    However, this method doesn’t provide 100% protection. HPV can be also transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse.

    One of the most effective prevention methods is vaccination. There are two types of HPV vaccines which are aimed at the most carcinogenic HPV types.

    The World Health Organization recommends vaccinating girls between 9 and 14 years of age before they become sexually active.

    Males can also be vaccinated to reduce transmission of HPV in the population.

    You can discuss vaccinating against HPV with your doctor.

    It is important that you regularly visit the cervical screening services and do not miss checkups. It might help detect cervical changes at an early stage.

    HPV vaccine

    There are over 100 known types of HPV. However, not all of them are equally dangerous.

    To prevent the most serious consequence of HPV infection — cervical cancer — two vaccines have been developed for the most high-risk HPV types.

    One contains the viral particles of four HPV types (6, 11, 16, and 18), while the other contains particles of types 16 and 18 only.

    The World Health Organization recommends vaccinating girls between the ages of 9 and 14 years. It’s best done before they can get infected with the virus (i.e., before becoming sexually active).

    This is because the immune response to the vaccine is the highest in this age group. Different countries have different approaches defining the age when the vaccination against HPV can be started.

    There is no upper age limit for HPV vaccination, although the response of the immune system is getting weaker with increasing age.

    The vaccination can also be good for women who are sexually active but not infected by HPV, as well as for women who are already infected but only by certain types of the virus.

    In this case, the vaccine may prevent infection with other types of HPV.

    For example, even if you have already been infected with the type of HPV that causes genital warts, you can still protect yourself against the types that can cause cancer since you may not be infected with those types yet.

    Consult your doctor to learn if you have indications for the HPV vaccination.

    Frequently asked questions on HPV

    Can HPV come back once it has cleared?

    Fortunately, most strains of HPV are cleared by your body after approximately 1 year. However, recent research has shown that the HPV infections that affect women during menopause can actually be a reactivation of an old infection.

    It isn’t yet known whether this is really caused by a reactivation, or if it’s due to an dormant infection.

    Can a woman give a man HPV?

    Yes. Even though the HPV virus seems to clear faster in men, and it’s less likely to cause symptoms, men can still get the virus from women. HPV is one of the leading causes of male mouth and throat cancer, and men can get genital warts, too.

    And of course, men with HPV can spread the virus to others.

    Is HPV a STD?

    Yes. In fact, the human papillomavirus or HPV is the most common STD in the world. Not all sorts of HPV cause genital warts or cancer; in fact, there are over 200 strains of the virus.

    Most of these strains don’t cause symptoms, or only cause common warts on other parts of your body. HPV types 16, 18 nearly all cases of cervical cases. HPV types 6 and 11 cause most cases of genital warts.

    What happens if HPV goes untreated?

    In most cases, your body will clear the infection on its own. But some women will develop genital warts or cellular dysplasia.

    This refers to changes inside your cells that eventually lead to cervical cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death in women around the world.

    Is HPV deadly?

    The virus itself isn’t deadly; however, certain strains of HPV can cause different types of cancer if left untreated. High-risk strains of HPV can cause cervical, vulvar, penile, anal, and oral cancer. In fact, HPV is the most fatal STD after HIV.

    In the US alone, around 4000 people die each year from HPV-related cancers.

    Can you pass HPV back and forth with your partner?

    No. Once your body clears an HPV infection, you will develop immunity against that strain of HPV.

    If you’re only intimate with one partner, that means that you won’t be passing this strain back and forth.

    However, you can still get infected with another strain if you have a new sexual partner.

    Can you give someone HPV if it is dormant?

    No. If an HPV infection is dormant, it’s inactive. That means that it won’t spread to other parts of your body, cause symptoms, and that you can’t infect another person. But you should keep in mind that you can have an active HPV infection without realizing it, so you should always practise safe sex!

    Can you get HPV without being sexually active?

    Yes. Unlike other STDs, HPV isn’t spread by bodily fluids.

    Instead, it’s spread through simple skin-to-skin contact. That means that even if you don’t engage in vaginal, oral, or anal sex, you can still catch HPV - even from sex toys! In fact, over half of women who are virgins have HPV in their vaginal tracts.

    Can you still be sexually active with HPV?

    Since HPV can spread from skin-to-skin contact, it’s always possible to spread the virus during intercourse. However, using condoms, gloves, or dental dams can greatly reduce the risk of infection. Sex should be avoided during an outbreak of genital warts, since they’re highly contagious. The HPV vaccine can also protect your partner from getting HPV.

    How do you get rid of HPV warts at home?

    Home remedies like green tea extract, apple cider vinegar, witch hazel, and tea tree oil have been used to treat HPV warts for a long time.

    However, there is limited scientific evidence supporting these treatments, whereas medical treatments are very effective. You should always go to the doctor if you develop genital warts.

    History of updates

    Current version (03 February 2023)

    Reviewed by Dr. Anna Klepchukova, Intensive care medicine specialist, chief medical officer, Flo Health Inc., UK

    Published (27 August 2018)

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