Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a prevalent sexually transmitted infection (STI), also called sexually transmitted disease (STD). HPV is arguably the most prevalent STI, with millions of new cases diagnosed yearly.
Over 100 strains of HPV exist. Some of these HPV strains are more likely to cause health complications than others, so they are commonly referred to as high-risk HPV strains. The other less harmful strains are referred to as low risk-HPV.
The low-risk HPV strains do not cause cervical cancer, and they are treatable. High-risk HPV, on the other hand, can cause the development of abnormal cervical cells, which may develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.
Common types of HPV
Different types of HPV exist, and identifying the type you have contracted can help your doctor easily determine the next step. Some HPV strains can clear off without treatment, while others may lead to cancer.
If you have HPV, your doctor can monitor your condition to identify cancerous cells early if they develop.
- HPV 6 and HPV 11
HPV 6 and 11 are low-risk strains of HPV. They are responsible for about 90% of genital warts cases. In some cases, HPV 11 can cause cervical cell changes.
Genital warts form like cauliflower-like bumps on the genital area, and they usually occur a few weeks or months after contracting HPV from an infected sex partner. You can prevent HPV 6 and 11 by getting the Gardasil 9, an HPV vaccine.
Clinical trials of Gardasil 9 showed 89 – 99% protection against HPV-6 and HPV-11. This reduction in HPV infection rate was observed in people between 9 – 26 years.
The HPV vaccine guideline encourages people to receive the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active because the vaccine cannot protect against HPV after getting the virus.
If you have contracted HPV 6 or 11, your doctor will prescribe topical medications such as podofilox (Condylox) and imiquimod (Zyclara, Aldara) to destroy the genital wart tissue.
Destroying the local genital warts tissues can boost your immune system’s ability to fight off the virus.
- HPV 16 and HPV 18
HPV 16 and 18 are both high-risk HPV strains, but HPV 16 is the most common. HPV 16 infection does not cause noticeable symptoms, but it results in cervical changes and is responsible for about 50% of cervical cancer cases.
HPV 18 does not also cause symptoms but lead to cervical cancer. HPV 16 and HPV 18 combined are responsible for about 70% of cervical cancer cases worldwide. You can prevent these HPV infections by getting the HPV vaccine called Gardasil 9.
Women can undergo HPV testing by getting a Pap test, also known as a Pap smear. This test is a screening for cervical cancer, and it checks for HPV in the cervix. If HPV is present, a Pap smear can determine whether they are low or high-risk HPV strains.
Medical experts do not recommend HPV tests as routine screening for women below 30 because many women contract HPV at that age, but they clear off without treatment. However, if your Pap test showed abnormal cells, your doctor will carry out an HPV test to assess the risk of other conditions, such as cervical cancer.
If your test identifies HPV in your cervix, it doesn’t mean it will develop into cervical cancer. It only means that you could develop cervical cancer in future if you have a high-risk HPV. After the test, the doctor will review your result and discuss your treatment and options.
Important statistics on HPV
Every year, medical professionals diagnose millions of new HPV cases. Almost every sexually active person will contract a strain of HPV in their lifetime, but research shows that the virus will clear off in 80 – 90% of cases.
HPV infection is less common in women above 30 years, but infected persons are likely to develop cervical cancer, so gynaecologists recommend regular testing in women over 30.
Tips for preventing HPV
The following tips can help you prevent HPV infections;
- Get the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine for people between 9 – 14 involves two shots taken 6 – 12 months apart and three shots taken over six months for people above 15. People between 27 – 45 who have not received the HPV vaccine can now get Gardasil 9.
- Ask your doctor which vaccine they want to administer to you
The HPV strains protected by the different vaccines vary.
- The HPV bivalent vaccine (Cervarix) offers protection against only HPV 16 and 18
- The HPV quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil) protects against HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18
- The HPV 9-valent vaccine, recombinant (Gardasil 9) protects against HPV 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58
Since Gardasil 9 covers a wider range of protection and produces fewer side effects or adverse reactions, it currently offers the best form of protection against HP infection.
Some side effects of the Gardasil 9 vaccine include swelling, redness, pain and irritation at the injection site. Some people also experience a headache after taking the injection.
Other prevention tips
- Avoid sexual intercourse with your partner if genital warts are present
- Use protection like condoms whenever you engage in sexual activity. However, note that HPV transmission occurs through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, not through the exchange of bodily fluids, which means that condoms may not always offer protection against HPV but may reduce your risk
- Women should have regular gynaecological visits for cervical cancer screening from 21 – 65 years.
HPV is quite common, so you need a form of protection to avoid developing health complications from untreated HPV infections since they do not show symptoms in most cases. Medical Express Clinic is the private provider of HPV vaccine in London, so if you want to protect yourself from common HPV strains, visit our clinic or call 02074991991 to schedule an appointment for your vaccination.