Prevention is the best option

Health tips to prevent and detect human papillomavirus infection

Virus del papil·loma humà a Vall d'Hebron

Genital infection due to the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among the sexually active population. It is a group of viruses that infect the skin and mucous membranes. Any sexually active person may be at risk of infection from this virus. Therefore, it is essential to regularly and properly use a condom during sex.

Description

What do you need to bear in mind if you have human papillomavirus?

HPV infection can cause, in many cases:

  • Benign lesions: such as skin and genital warts
  • Malignant lesions: such as some types of cancer, including uterine, cervical, prostate, vulvar or anal cancer. These are some of the less frequent lesions. 

It is possible for people not to know that they have the virus because they have no lesions or because they have damage that is difficult to see. Plus, the majority of lesions disappear completely without having any affect.

Generally, HPV is transmitted through unprotected sex (oral, anal or vaginal), with or without penetration, with someone who is infected, even if that person does not have any symptoms.

Therefore, it is essential to use a condom properly during sex. This does not offer complete protection, as areas that cannot be covered with a condom will remain unprotected. It is also worth noting that it could be months between being infected and the appearance of symptoms, so it is very difficult to tell when the infection occurred.

HPV that may lead to cancer may not at first show any symptoms or obvious injury, but it may be detected using specific tests (such as a Pap test or cervical and vaginal cytology). 

HPV infection of the cervix and anus can be serious and, therefore, it should be diagnosed and treated as early as possible to prevent it from evolving and becoming a cervical or rectal cancer. A routine HPV test is not recommended.

Some measures to prevent the spread of warts to other parts of the body and to other people are:

  • If an injury appears in the area, see a specialised health care professional.
  • Do not scratch lesions; if you have touched this area of your body, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Maintain a good level of hygiene and avoid dampness.
  • If someone has warts, it is important that they let their sexual partner or partners know, so that they can take protective measures during sex and so that the partner can be tested by a professional and receive the appropriate treatment if required.

The infection of some types of HPV may be prevented using vaccinations (these should be administered before having sex). Currently, the vaccine is funded under the systematic vaccination programme for 11/12-year-old girls (sixth grade).

Despite vaccination, the recommended screening protocol for cervical cancer should be followed. The aim is to prevent malignant lesions in the genital tract associated with the virus. The vaccine protects against infections due to the virus, which cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts.

 

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