Human Papilloma Virus infections a global epidemic

By Refadoc, Posted on : Saturday, 09 January 2016 - 4:28 pm IST

How vast is the epidemic?

Infection with HPV or the Human papilloma virus has become a major concern today. It is amongst the most prevailing sexually transmitted disease in today’s era. In the USA alone, a population of more than 20 million is infected with the human papilloma virus. Moreover newer cases keep getting added year after year.

What is HPV?

The human papilloma virus is a type of DNA virus that replicates in the basal layer of the skin. It can easily spread through sexual intercourse – whether it be oral, vaginal or anal. The mode of transmission is not just sexual, but also through skin-to-skin contact.

Why is HPV infection so rampant?

When one has any other form of STD such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis; there are usually external signs and symptoms. Due to these symptoms, the patient as well as his/her partner is aware of the infection and can thus opt for treatment. However about 70% of those affected by

HPV infections

 do not develop any signs and symptoms. The infection remains at a sub-clinical level, and the patient becomes a carrier. Since the patient is not aware of the infection, he/she does not seek treatment. 

Moreover, most sexually transmitted diseases can be prevented by using a barrier contraceptive, such as condoms. However, since

HPV

 can spread even via skin to skin contact, its spread cannot be prevented even by wearing condoms. Thus the infection goes on spreading to all the sexual partners. 

This is the reason why men and women who have a higher number of sexual partners are more prone to catching this infection. However sex with even 1 infected partner is enough for a person to catch the virus. In fact, this infection is so common that almost everyone who is sexually active will acquire HPV infection some time or the other in their life span.Children too are prone to HPV infection via skin to skin transmission. Even though the virus cannot invade intact skin and mucus membrane, it can enter through any break in the continuity of the skin/mucus membrane. In fact, if a pregnant woman is actively infected with HPV, she may transmit the infection to her baby during the process of birthing.

How does  HPV affect us?

The immune system of healthy individuals is strong enough to tackle the human papilloma virus. Hence most men and women who have exposed to the virus remain asymptomatic. In fact, men are able to fight off the HPV virus much quicker than women. Having a weak immune system is one of the biggest risk factors for developing active

HPV infection

. This is especially true for patients with HIV.The virus is so persistent that it can live in the human body for up to a decade without producing any symptoms of infection. The most common manifestations of an active HPV infection are development of genital warts (benign) and cervical cancer (malignant).

How can I safeguard myself?

Now that we’ve established the rampant spread of the human papilloma virus, what can we do to lower our chances of being affected? Being in a mutually monogamous relationship, helps to cut your risk of developing HPV. However maximum protection against HPV infection can be achieved by getting vaccinated against it. It is advocated to get vaccinated against HPV before one is sexually active. The age group of 11-12 is especially recommended. But in case you missed it at that stage, speak to your doctor regarding HPV vaccination. The Centre for Disease Control recommends it up to the age of 26 years. Just like a popular saying goes, a stitch (vaccine) in time, saves nine (potential partners).

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