HPV: Human papillomavirus is a viral infection that affects the skin and moist membranes of the body. The virus is transferred via skin to skin contact. There no signs or symptoms usually if you are infected. However in some individuals, depending on the type of HPV, it damages the body’s tissues giving rise to opportune bacterial infections and occasionally cancer.
As part of the routine cervical smear test we also include HPV testing. This determines if you have HPV and what type of virus is. The test can also identify your susceptibility to genital warts and cervical cancer. We have health care professionals on-site who can help and give advice on how often you will need to get tested, identify which type, its virulence and if, and what, precautions you need to take and advice on what to do next.
HPV is a common virus and 80% of people will become infected at some time in their lives. There are about 200 different types of HPV. Some of which are considered harmless however certain strains are known to cause cancers. It can also be responsible for genital warts. Scientists have identified cancers which are likely due to HPV infection. In particular: cervical, vulval, anal, oropharyngeal and penile cancer. However it is not all doom and gloom, only 0.2% of people infected with HPV go on to develop cancer: cervical cancer being the most common in women under the age of 35; and older women who have not benefited from the HPV vaccine.
An estimated 70% of cervical cancers are caused by the HPV virus. Vaccinating young women against HPV does significantly reduce the chances of getting cervical cancer.
Cervical smears are routine (especially for older women) and are an easy procedure to check for the warning signs of cervical cancer.
Usually, anal and vaginal sexual intercourse are the most common routes of transmission. Other modes of transmission include intimate skin to skin contact with moist membranous parts of the body. Even kissing or cuddling could expose you to the virus. (Condoms are not considered effective protection from HPV.) If a pregnant mother is positive to the HPV virus, she might transfer it to her unborn baby. For the majority of people however the virus does not do you any harm at all. They remain symptom free, and the body's immune system clears the virus without any need for treatment.
Vaccination is one of the best ways to prevent infection from the HPV virus. The vaccine is usually given to girls over the age of 12 year and is now also given to boys of a similar age. If you, for any reason missed this window of opportunity do not worry we can test for HPV and vaccinate you if it is required.
Since there are no symptoms, lots of people carry the virus without even realising they have it. Having the virus does not automatically put you at risk of developing cancer.
If you do have a high risk strain in your body and your immune system cannot get rid of it (as some people's immune system is unable to clear the virus) this, unfortunately, is what leads on to it attacking the cells in your body.
To sum up, the HPV Virus or human papillomavirus is a type of transferable skin infection. You catch HPV if you have intimate contact with a person who already has it. The best protection is through vaccination. Vaccination however serves no purpose if you already have it. Practicing safe sex might be helpful, but it will not lessen your vulnerability to the risks of the HPV Virus.