You’ve heard the name often, but what exactly is HPV? HPV, short for Human Papillomavirus, is one of the most commonly contracted sexually transmitted illnesses(STIs) – in fact, four out of five people will have contracted some form of HPV at least once in their life. There are more than 100 forms of this virus, many of which are harmless and can be beaten by your immune system, unfortunately, there are strains that can lead to genital warts and could potentially increase the risk of getting cervical cancer.
HPV is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact. While condoms may help in preventing genital HPV, they don’t cover all the parts where your skin may make contact. It is possible to contract genital HPV without actual intercourse happening, the only method of prevention that is 100% effective is abstinence. The tricky thing about HPV is it doesn’t always have signs or symptoms so you could very easily have the virus and not know it. As I mentioned, your immune system can beat many forms of HPV by itself. The problem comes in when the virus stays in your body for extended periods of time leading to further infection.
Some forms of HPV can lead to genital warts; these warts can be flesh-coloured bumps in your groin area near or on your genitals, usually resulting in a burning or itchy sensation. They can be big or small, single or multiple.. A healthcare practitioner will be able to identify these with an external examination and provide treatment. Thankfully, genital warts are associated with a low-risk form of HPV.
In a person with a healthy immune system, most forms of HPV are dealt with by your own body. If you suspect that you have genital warts, go to see a healthcare practitioner immediately and most importantly, don’t try to treat it with over-the-counter medication. While it could be very embarrassing for you, healthcare providers will treat you in a professional and respectful manner, and they won’t judge you. They are also the only ones who can provide you with the proper testing and treatment that is required. Just be patient, genital warts may take several treatments before they go away.
High-risk strains of HPV, on the other hand, cause abnormal changes in the cervical tissue, this is usually picked up by a Pap smear test, catching these early enough could help prevent it from turning into cervical cancer. Unfortunately, HPV often doesn’t show any symptoms, so the only way to tell for certain is by having your regular pap smear.
How to prevent HPV
From the age of 21 doctors recommend that young girls go for their first Pap smear, this test can help identify any unusual cells found in the cervix that may be associated with cervical cancer; if caught early enough it is possible to treat this and prevent full blown cancer from occurring. If you haven’t had one before, here’s what to expect from your first Pap smear.
There are also two HPV vaccines on the market which help prevent against some strains causing cervical cancer and genital warts, of course, it doesn’t prevent all so it’s still important to have protected sex and go for regular Pap smears. These vaccines are recommended for girls aged 12-13 because they’re the most effective before you become sexually active. Nevertheless, older females can still take them so talk to your healthcare practitioner.
Many forms of HPV can be cured naturally in your body by your immune system so be sure to take good care of yourself with a healthy diet and exercise. If you are sexually active, you need to limit your number of partners to lower your risk of infection, remember most people don’t even know that they have HPV so they can pass it on to numerous people over the years before finding out that they’re infected. And lastly Choma, always practise safe sex!
Do you need more advice on STIs? Remember that you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).
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