The connection between HPV infection and cervical cancer is one of the most common concerns about contracting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Although HPV usually goes away by itself, there is no actual cure for it yet, and many are concerned about its long term effects, especially on women.
Here are 5 things everyone should know about HPV.
1. HPV is very common
HPV is the most common STI and affects a large number of sexually active people at some point in their lives, many of them without ever even knowing it.
Dr Linda says although HPV is very common; it is not as commonly treated as you would expect.
“Our bodies can fight off most viruses, including HPV. For many people, HPV passes with symptoms not too different from the flu. While your body fights the virus, you might have a fever, feel tired and have body aches that soon pass without causing much concern,” she says.
2. You can get HPV from oral sex
HPV can affect and infect in different ways, including infecting the mouth and throat through oral sex.
Dr Linda says most STIs can spread this way and while many people discount protection like condoms or mouth shields during oral sex, these measures should be non-negotiable.
“HPV can affect your throat and your tonsils causing warts that could pass as throat infections or tonsillitis,” she says.
“While HPV can pass through your system without you knowing it, it doesn’t mean it is harmless. For some people, there are lasting health implications to contraction HPV, like increased risk of several cancers, not only cervical cancer.”
3. Not all genital warts are related to HPV, but some are
One of the most common symptoms of HPV is warts which can appear in any infected part of the body.
Although warts, especially genital warts can be cause for concern they are not a sure sign of HPV.
“There are different causes for genital warts, not all of them are related to an STI, but all of them should be considered as needing medical attention if simply to find their cause,” says Dr Linda.
4. HPV is related to cancer
There is research that confirms a relationship between HPV and not only cervical cancer but oropharyngeal cancer and possibly other cancers too.
“There have been studies and research done confirming a relationship between HPV and cancer, most commonly noted cervical cancer. While this is true, HPV is not the only reason a person might develop cancer. It is important to make this point because while taboos and stigma around STIs are problematic, the association can contribute to stigma around cancer too, which isn’t helpful,” says Dr Linda.
5. There is a vaccine for HPV
There are currently two HPV vaccines available in South Africa; while the vaccines don’t cover all the strains of HPV, they do cover the ones most likely to cause cervical cancer.
“Cervix covers the two most dangerous HPV strains – those that cause cervical cancer – strains 16 and 18. Gardasil covers strains 16 and 18, plus an additional two that are responsible for genital warts,” says Dr Linda.
“The vaccines are recommended for girls and women between the age of 9 and 26 when they are said to most effective however there is research showing that the vaccine would be beneficial to women at any age and men as well,” she adds.
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