Human Papillomavirus

What is Human Papillomavirus?

Human Papillomavirus or HPV is a disease which can infect various parts of the human body. There are over 100 different types of HPV, and many are primarily sexually transmitted. It is estimated that more than 70% of sexually active Canadians will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives. Most HPV infection goes away on their own, without being treated, however, in some people, HPV can persist. HPV is especially dangerous if it is cancer causing and persistent, and HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer. Different types of HPV cause different symptoms, with the most common causing anal and genital warts, and some having more serious consequences such as cervical, penile and anal cancers.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of HPV?

In most cases, HPV will do away on its own and does not cause any major health concerns. If it does not, it can cause health problems such as genital warts or cancer. Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area, and can be any size, raised or flat, or cauliflower-shaped. Persistent HPV may lead to cancers down the road, so it is important to get tested regularly if it is suspected.

Who is Most at Risk?

All sexually active people are at risk of HPV, as it most often does not cause any symptoms and people continue to engage in sexual intercourse without knowing they have it. If you are sexually active with multiple partners, you are at greater risk than people in monogamous relationships.

How Can HPV be Prevented?

Fortunately, many precautions against HPV can be taken, almost eliminating the risk. Practicing safe sex through consisted use of condoms, and reducing sexual partners reduces your risk of contraction. Abstinence from sexual activity offers the best form of protection. Immunization prior to engagement in sexual activity offers consistent protection against the majority of HPV forms.

There are currently two HPV vaccines authorized for use in Canada and are approved for use in females and males in adolescent and young adult years. The two vaccines, however, do not protect against all forms of cervical cancer-causing HPV, so all women, even those vaccinated, should undergo regular testing to catch cancer-causing HPV early and raise the survival rate of cervical cancers.

The two vaccines are routinely administered to girls and boys at the age of 12 in Canada (Grade 7) and are a part of regular vaccines administered in the school systems. A catch-up vaccine is recommended for males and females though the ages of 21 to 26 if not previously vaccinated, as well as for people with compromised immune systems.


References:

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). STD information: HPV. Retrieved from:

https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm

Public Health Agency of Canada (2017). Human papillomavirus publication. Retrieved from:

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/std-mts/hpv-vph/fact-faits-eng.php

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