The Ultimate Guide To A Human Papillomavirus Infection (HPV)

What Is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection. This virus is usually harmless and generally goes away by itself, but some types can lead to cancer or genital warts.

HPV is responsible for over 95% of cervical cancer cases, making it a significant public health concern.

Common Sexually Transmitted Infections

HPV

Genital Herpes

Chlamydia

Gonorrhoea

HIV/AIDS

Syphilis

Trichomoniasis

Viral Hepatitis

Male Urethritis Syndrome

HPV

Over 170 Types Of HPV

There are more than 170 different strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and each of the strains prefer to grow on different parts of the skin (Anchor Study, 2021; Chen et al., 2016).

Only 40 kinds of HPV infect the genital area; including the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, and scrotum, as well as the mouth and throat (Ebrahim et al., 2016). These kinds of HPV are spread during sexual contact (Ebrahim et al., 2016).

However, there are many types of HPV that are not sexually transmitted. These types of HPV cause common warts, such as hand warts and plantar warts on the feet (Anchor Study, 2021). HPV is so common that everyone has been exposed to the virus at some point, some people are simply more likely to get warts than others (Anchor Study, 2021).

Different Types Of HPV Variants Explained (Burd, 2003)

HPV Quick Facts

HPV is common in South Africa:

In a study with 213 sexually active female high school students in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, it was found that one of 30 tested for variants of HPV, were detected in 76.06% of participants (Mbulawa et al., 2021).

Anyone can get HPV:

Regardless of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, if you are sexually active you will most likely come into contact with the virus within months or years of starting to have sex (cancer.gov, 2023).

Most HPV infections don’t cause cancer:

The majority of cervical HPV infections are cleared or suppressed by the immune system within 1 to 2 years of catching the virus (Ebrahim et al., 2016).

✔ HPV infections that don’t get cleared by the immune system may cause cancer:

In some cases, when a person has a high risk HPV variant (in particular, HPV 16 and HPV 18) that doesn’t go away, a person might develop cervical cancer (Ebrahim et al., 2016).

Getting the HPV vaccination can prevent cancer:

HPV vaccines are a really important weapon in the fight against cancer. This vaccine can prevent infection with many high risk HPV types, preventing many HPV-related cancers and even cases of genital warts.

This vaccine is recommended particularly for children ages 11–12 years, who should get two doses of HPV vaccine, done 6 to 12 months apart (CDC, 2021). But it is recommended for people up to 26 and in some cases even over (based on your doctor’s advice) (CDC, 2021).

Speak to your doctor about getting the vaccine or make an appointment and visit the Click’s Clinic, they will give the vaccine without a prescription.

Can HPV cause cancer?

Yes. HPV itself isn’t cancer, but it can cause changes in the body that lead to cancer (CDC, 2022).

Cervical cancer in women.

✔ Penile cancer in men.

✔ Anal cancer in both women and men.

✔ Cancer in the back of the throat (oropharyngeal cancer), including the base of the tongue and tonsils.

HPV & Cervical Cancer: What You Need To Know

HPV causes 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer. Learn how you can stay safe and spread awareness.

How Can I Get HPV?

Short answer: though all different kinds of skin contact during sex.

Long answer: HPV can be easily spread from sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who is living with the virus.

You get the HPV virus when one person’s vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, anus or used sex toys, touches another person’s genitals or mouth and throat.

HPV can be spread even if there is no ejaculation, or if a penis does not go inside the vagina/anus/mouth (cancer.gov, 2023). Infection can even happen when a person with HPV has no signs or symptoms (CDC, 2022).

Can Men Get HPV?

Short answer: Yes, but most men will never show symptoms. Unfortunately, there is not yet any recommended testing options for men.

Long answer: Men can catch HPV easily through having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Basically, having skin to skin contact with an infected area, even if it doesn’t look infected (CDC, 2022).

An HPV infection in men usually goes away by itself. But, if HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer (CDC, 2022).

How To Protect Yourself Against HPV

You cannot fully protect yourself against HPV, but you can lower your chances of getting the virus by (nhs.uk, 2022):

✔ Using condoms. This helps a lot, but they do not cover all the skin around your genitals, so you don’t have full protection.

✔ Getting the HPV vaccine. This protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as some other cancers. It does not protect against all types of HPV.

The Department Of Health has found that self-collection and HPV DNA tests reduce cervical cancer mortality by 50% more than other testing methods (DOH, 2021).

This is a superior option as HPV not only is HPV DNA testing less invasive, but it’s also a more cost-effective option when compared to traditional Pap smears.

Plus HPV only needs to be tested for once every 5 to 10 years, with more frequent assessments for individuals with suppressed immune systems, such as those with HIV.

HPV Test VS Pap Smear

What Are The Symptoms of HPV?

In men, if there are symptoms, they are usually:

Warts,

✔ Unusual growths,

✔ Lumps, or

✔ Sores.

In women, the symptoms are usually:

✔ A high-risk HPV infection on your cervix usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. This is why testing is really important.

✔ Painless growths or lumps around your vagina, or anus (genital warts).

How To Test For HPV With Epicentre

Epicentre offers HPV testing at home or in our Walk-In Lab simply click on the button below.

Testing For HPV With Epicentre

Photo taken from health.gov.au.

At Epicentre, we offer self collection testing:

1. You will be given a long cotton swab. You will then be given the chance to wash your hands and be taken to a private space.

2. Once you are alone, take the cotton swab firmly in your hand and twist it out of its case.

3. Now insert the swab only a few centimetres into your vagina and rotate it for 20 to 30 seconds.

4. Put the cotton back into its plastic case and into its provided plastic packet.

5. We will take the sample for testing, and you will get a notification that your result has been uploaded to our website app.

Is Self Collection Testing Safe?

Yes, evidence has shown that testing for HPV by using a self-collected sample from your vagina is just as safe and as accurate at detecting HPV as a clinician-collected sample taken from the cervix during an examination (health.gov.au, 2022).

However, self-collection only tests for HPV – not cervical cell abnormalities. Therefore, this test is not appropriate for people who have symptoms of cervical cancer or for unusual bleeding, pain or discharge (health.gov.au, 2022).

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