HPV or human papillomavirus: everything you need to know

According to medical statistics, every year there are thousands of cases of diseases related to HPV, a silent virus. HPV or human papillomavirus belongs to a large family of viruses, with more than 200 mutations. These variations of the virus are very wide, finding mutations of this virus that produce diseases as worrying as cancer.

That is why it is so important for every woman to have information about HPV, to take precautions and not miss a specialist at least once a year. Sometimes we do not know that we are victims of an infection until we go for consultation, or it is too late and we are alerted by its symptoms.

Human papillomavirus What is it?

It was discovered in 1935 by Dr. Francis Peyton Rous , who analyzed the appearance and previous symptoms of the papillomavirus in the skin of rabbits. HPV is a virus that, as mentioned above, has a large number of mutations, of which 40 directly affect the genitalia. The rest can be located in other areas of the body such as the skin or the mouth, manifesting itself in pimples, moles, small ulcers or irritations.

Those that affect the genitalia can be divided into two very different groups, according to their danger:

  • Low risk: They produce benign lesions, warts, which do not usually evolve into major lesions.
  • High risk: They generate a cellular alteration that over time can become cancerous lesions. It is undoubtedly the main one that we must treat, hence the importance of undergoing regular scans.

Cervical cancer is the most frequent and known that this biological entity can cause. But the human papillomavirus can also cause cancer in men, in the anus, and in the penis. Even less often, you can have problems in areas like your throat and mouth.

What does this virus consist of?

It consists of the union of 150 different viruses , which when uniting in the host body all react together, causing the appearance of the characteristic symptoms of the disease, apart from cancer cells in the form of a mosaic.

The possible theories that have been considered for the appearance of this disease are infection due to having relationships with different partners without using protection; or that of having sexual relations with the same person who continues to have or has had several sexual partners, some of them being a carrier of the disease.

HPV virus differentiation

There are two types of viruses, which will differ only in the power they have for cells to become cancerous or not. They are known as E6 and E7 which will react with different media of the organism causing or not this derivation.

What problems does HPV cause?

There are currently about 100 different types of human papillomavirus , not all of which lead to cancer .

Of these, only 60 types are those that cause physical symptoms that translate into noticeable warts in the nostrils, anus, hands and even the feet. The fact that it is a sexual disease does not have to imply that its symptoms are only focused on the genitals, and therefore you have to be very attentive.

The remaining 40 are those that do lead to cancer, which has been shown to also lead to skin and cervical cancer.

Differences between HPV types

They differ both in their physical manifestation and in the symptoms of each of the viruses.

Those that cause warts do not commonly lead to cancer cells , but those that do not produce them are the most dangerous , since they can only be detected through cytology and analysis of samples obtained from the affected area.

In both cases the treatment is different, varying mainly due to the severity of each one of them.

How is HPV transmitted?

The human papillomavirus that affects the genitals is transmitted through sexual contact. Both men and women can pass it on. It is a virus that is easily spread. It is estimated that almost 80% of people (4 out of 5) will contract it at some point in their life. This virus is transmitted skin to skin, not by sharing toilets, swimming pools, glasses, cutlery and so on.

The factors with the greatest guarantee of HPV contagion

  • Have sex with several people.
  • Have sex with your partner, having had several sexual partners.
  • Have sex without a condom.
  • Have a depressed or weak immune system, which is exposed to a great risk of contagion.

It should be clarified that in point 3, the use of a condom does not guarantee 100% protection against the human papilloma virus, since this virus can be found in areas of the genital mucosa that are not protected by it. , causing contagion to occur.

Likewise, on many occasions, the couple presents an asymptomatic passive infection , that is, they present the contagion of the virus in their body but since it has not been physically manifested, they are not aware that they carry it, therefore , the protocol of treatment.


How to prevent HPV infection?

There is no total prevention of the human pepilloma virus , since no matter how much you carry out the precise preventions, you never know if the other person does too.

The main prevention measures

  • Do not engage in unprotected sexual activities.
  • Do not choose to have sex with partners who have had multiple sexual partners in their life until they have been tested for HPV.
  • Submit to the HPV vaccination protocol.

What is an HPV carrier?

Carriers are those who suffer from this disease, but in turn it has to be differentiated into two types:

Passive carrier

It is the role that men usually play, the disease is almost negligible in men, since by not having a uterus in their body they cannot be affected. However, they are passive carriers of the disease, transferring it and transmitting it to their next sexual partner.

Active carrier

In this case, we are talking about women, who can carry the human papilloma virus apart from suffering from its symptoms and all the phases of said disease.

Like any STD that is known today, the papillomavirus represents an exception which can affect only women and manifest its symptoms only in them.

What are the symptoms of someone with the human papillomavirus?

The human papillomavirus can cause warts in the genital area. These usually have different sizes and in the most serious cases, they have a slightly asymmetrical shape and volume.

These injuries are easily treatable, and although they can reappear, they do not usually cause a major health problem. However, most of the time the infection passes without the person noticing it, since the immune system is in charge of fighting the virus immediately, and it passes through our body asymptomatically.

High-risk HPV does not generate any symptoms, although having it does not translate into lesions, if it is very important to keep it under control. We cannot stop insisting on the importance of carrying out medical check-ups and always using some prevention method.

HPV in women

In women it may be the case that the disease is transported, but that it is latent until it is activated in another carrier or in the same host.

Being a virus, the presence or contagion of the disease varies according to various factors, including environmental ones.

This disease can manifest itself in the form of external warts on the genitals and in various parts of the body, and in the most aggressive cases, in cancer cells, which can occur in:

  • Neck of the uterus
  • Vulva
  • Vagina
  • Oropharyngeal

All of them being detected by means of a preventive cytology that can be carried out at any time during the periodic reviews.

HPV in men

In men, as opposed to women, the risk of referral to cancer is lower but not impossible.

It is true that many of the infected men do not present any of the symptoms, but sometimes these manifest in the form of warts of different shapes and sizes in the genital areas, this being the main reason to go to the doctor and perform the respective tests that can detect this disease.

In the cases of infections by warts, in many cases it does not lead to cancer, but it is always good to undergo the relevant examination to rule out any possibility.

How to detect HPV early?

Currently, there are simple methods that detect any type of alteration in the cells of the cervix caused by the human papillomavirus. One is through a Pap smear, on an outpatient basis or in a gynecologist’s office. It is an examination that allows taking a sample of the cells of the cervix and after subsequent analysis, determines alterations or not of them. This type of test can provide valuable information about the patient’s health status.

At other times we can find some small warts or pimples on our genitals. Although they are very alarming, they have effective treatment.

The importance of prevention

As the human papillomavirus is sexually transmitted, the use of a condom is essential. All sexually active people should know that the virus can be lodged in the genital areas that the condom does not cover. So, it is important to have a Pap smear annually.

In recent years, HPV vaccines that successfully prevent the two most aggressive human papillomavirus subtypes have been added to the childhood vaccination schedule.

HPV treatment

Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. For example, cryotherapy freezes cervical precancerous cells, and then they are removed. LEEP, an electrosurgical method that removes altered cells using an electrical current.

HPV is generally harmless and goes unnoticed because it causes no symptoms. The body itself fights it.

Topical applications

These occur with the appearance of warts in the external areas, and are classified as:

0.5% podophyllin

Which is applied by the patient at home with protocols determined by the doctor. It is a passive treatment and is prescribed when warts are few in number.

Imiquimod 5%

It is an immunomodulatory drug, which acts on the wart that affects the immune system and is removed after a short time, causing it to disappear. This drug is contraindicated for pregnancy, as it can cause problems.

80-90% Trichloroacetic

It is an aggressive treatment, which can only be done once a week and only by a specialist.

In conclusion, knowledge is power. Knowing HPV does not hurt, as it is the most common sexually transmitted disease that in the long term can cause both women and men a much greater and sometimes even fatal condition.

Prevention and going to our specialist regularly is vital.