Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses which are very common and harmless in most people. But in some cases, HPV can cause genital warts or even cancer. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. What is the HPV virus, what are the symptoms and side effects?
What does HPV do?
HPV affects the skin and usually affects the mouth, throat or genital area.
HPV is very contagious and is usually passed not through sexual contact.
You do not need to have penetrative sex to catch HPV, it can be caught through:
- skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
- vaginal, anal or oral sex
- sharing sex toys
Most people will catch HPV at some time in their life as it is very common
What are the symptoms?
HPV does not have symptoms, so many people don’t know if they have it.
Side effects of HPV
While not everyone who has HPV will suffer these side effects there are several medical conditions linked to the HPV viruses.
According to the NHS website, some types of HPV can cause:
- genital warts
- abnormal changes in the cells that can sometimes turn into cancer
HPV types linked to cancer are called high-risk types.
Cancers linked to high-risk HPV include:
- cervical cancer
- anal cancer
- cancer of the penis
- vulval cancer
- vaginal cancer
- some types of head and neck cancer
You can have HPV for many years without it causing problems.
How to protect yourself from HPV
While you cannot fully protect yourself from HPV, a vaccine is available.
Girls are given their first vaccines against HPV in school during year 8 and year 9.
Boys, on the other hand, are not routinely vaccinated against the disease – although this year, boys aged 12 to 13 years old (year 8) will receive the vaccine for the first time.
Boys will be administered the same jab as girls, with two injections to the upper arm six months apart.
The vaccine is believed to be effective enough in women for it to also protect men.
Unvaccinated girls cannot pass on an HPV infection, indirectly protecting boys via ‘herd protection’.
A general reduction in the incidence of genital warts is already noted in the UK population, owing to this effect.
HPV vaccinations are not readily available for boys but the NHS plans to extend it to the population in the 2019-2020 school year (September 2019).
A report from April 2019 found the rate of pre-cervical cancer in girls had significantly dipped as a result of the jab.
Condoms can help protect you against HPV, but they do not cover all the skin around your genitals, so you’re not fully protected.
Testing for HPV
HPV testing is part of cervical screening.
There’s no blood test for HPV.
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