The Many Faces of HPV
Imagine catching a virus that has over 250 types or strains! These 250 all have one symptom in common, a wart – an interruption in the growth of skin cells, where the cells cluster and grow out of control. But that is the only element that ties together all these strains. They are different in the ways in which they present themselves physically, the time in which it takes them to grow, and the seriousness of their consequences to human health. There is no cure for HPV virus regardless of strain; there is only help for the symptoms, and treatment for secondary diseases which result from HPV infection.
The good news is that most of the 250 strains are harmless, and you will never see any sign of them in your body. They will clear themselves up over time and simply go away.
A few of the strains cause “common warts” – we have all either seen or experienced these ourselves. These warts occur on hands, feet, knees and elbows. They are embarrassing and annoying, but they can be cleared up with over-the-counter medicines or with a prescription from your doctor.
However, there are around 40 strains that are exclusively sexually-transmitted and can affect the genitals, mouth, throat and anus. Some of the more common cause warts on the genitals – usually on the vulva, vagina, or penis. These “genital warts” are unsightly and embarrassing and sometimes painful. If you are a woman, though, you may never even know you have them. These can be cleared up with medicines from your doctor. Often, these types of warts take time to clear up, so several treatments are necessary. Genital warts do not lead to cancer, and will go away in time.
Other genital strains of HPV infection show no signs or symptoms. There is no way to know if your partner is carrying this type of HPV virus. If you have not developed a serious health issue related to one of these strains, you will likely not know yourself if you are carrying this type of HPV. But these are the types of HPV infection that can really harm you, resulting in cancer.
It is important for you to know that HPV, which is formally the human papillomavirus, is not the same thing as HIV, which is human immunodeficiency virus, and is related to AIDS. HPV will never lead to AIDS. In fact, it is transmitted a bit differently. Although both diseases are sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV requires body fluid from one individual to transfer into the blood stream of the other individual. But HPV does not require fluid to blood transfer, only skin to skin transfer. For this reason it is accurate to say that HPV spreads easier!
Strains of HPV that are cancer-related can cause serious cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva in women. They can even cause anal and penile cancers in men, although it is rare. People have been known to develop cancers of the throat and mouth that were traced to HPV origin: these originated from oral sex.
One more rare disease related to HPV infection during oral sex is recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP. This is a condition in which warts develop in the respiratory tract and lungs. It is a serious disease which causes pain and breathing problems, and can even be fatal in severe circumstances. It can often be successfully treated with medicines and surgery. However, it is persistent, and several surgeries may be required over a period of years to bring it under control before it runs its course.