HPV Unpacked: What is Human Papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) through skin-to-skin contact. This infection causes warts in various parts of the body like the vagina and penis, mouth, and hands depending on the strain There are more than 100 varieties of HPV.  Some types of HPV infection cause warts, and some can cause different types of cancer.  

Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer. But some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have been linked to the HPV infection. Read more about cervical cancer linked to HPV

How do you contract HPV?

HPV is spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. You can get it when your vulva, vagina, penis, or anus touches someone else’s genitals, mouth, or throat during sex. Some people who have the virus usually don’t show the symptoms hence they can still pass it on. 

Symptoms of HPV 

In most cases HPV has no symptoms, this is what healthcare providers refer to as an asymptomatic infection. Many can have it and still don’t know.

Women can develop warts around their genital areas like the vulva, vagina, clitoris, and cervix while males get them on the penis. They can also be on the mouth and hands and can cause itching.

Where you can test?

You can get tested at your doctor’s office or at your community clinic. The test includes a Pap smear or the HPV test, it will also depend on your age and medical history.  Your healthcare provider will let you know which test best suits you.

Treatment and Prevention

There is no cure for the virus itself but, there is treatment for the health problems that HPV can cause. Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider with prescription medication. If the warts are left untreated, they may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number. That is why it’s important to seek medical advice.

South Africa has HPV vaccinations for young girls from 9 years through school health programs and adults up to the age of 26, provided they are not sexually active at the time of vaccination. It is not recommended for all adults over the age of 27. Healthcare providers will need to discuss this with you as you may not have been vaccinated earlier in life. In this age range the vaccination provides less benefit because more people might have been exposed to the virus sometime earlier in their life as they became sexually active. Read more on things you should know about the vaccine.

You can also avoid being infected by ensuring that you use protection whenever you have sexual intercourse. 

Remember that there is help Choma, you don’t have to feel ashamed about HPV and no one has the right to judge you. You should see a healthcare provider if you notice any changes in the appearance of your genitals, mouth, throat, or anus so that you can be treated. 

If you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send a Facebook message, an  Instagram message or a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).