Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
What is it?
Human Papillomavirus or HPV is an infection that lives in your skin. There are many types or strains of HPV, and about 40 of them can be transmitted through sexual activity. About half of the 40 versions that are transmitted through sexual activity cause warts, and the other half cause pre-cancerous cells. Pre-cancerous cells do not mean you have cancer, precancerous cells means you are more likely to have cancer. Some experts believe up to 70% of the sexually active population is infected with some form of HPV. However, 90% of people who are infected virus, fight off the virus within two years.
How can I get it?
- You can get HPV through oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a partner who has HPV. The infection is transmitted when your mouth, vagina, or anus comes into contact with the skin or your partner’s mouth, vagina, or anus.
- You are more likely to pass HPV to another person when you have an outbreak of genital warts However, HPV can also be transmitted when you do not have warts.
How do I know if I have it?
Most people infected with this virus do not show any symptoms at all. Some individuals may experience genital and or anal warts, caused by HPV:
- They look like growths in, on, or around the genital area. They may look like a very small cauliflower or be flat and hard to see. You may have one or many. They may be itchy or have discharge/bleeding if irritated
- They usually occur within 3 months of having sex with an infected person
- They can appear on the penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, urethra, cervix, anus, or rectum.
Some HPV strains can cause pre-cancerous cells:
- These strains do not have noticeable symptoms. If left untreated they could cause head, throat, vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, or anal cancer. If you are concerned, make sure to have regular check-ups with your doctor in order to catch any developing cancer cells.
How am I tested?
- HPV is difficult to test for without symptoms.
- If you have a wart, a Healthcare provider will look at the wart and determine whether or not it is HPV
- Healthcare providers can test for pre-cancerous cells in the cervix and anus using a pap test. During a pap test, a tiny wand is inserted into the vagina or anus to swab the cervix or anus. Pap tests are done on every sexually active person with a cervix, whether or not you have any symptoms. If you are having trouble accessing an anal pap test, give us a call at 613-226-3234.
- If you are concerned about other forms of pre-cancerous cells caused by HPV, contact your healthcare provider and make sure to have regular check-ups.
How is it treated?
If genital warts are present, your body can fight the virus of which sometimes reduced the number and frequency of warts that you see. If the warts are bothering you, you can talk to a doctor about:
- Freezing warts off with liquid nitrogen
- Burning off warts with a special acid
- Medicated cream
- Internal warts can be treated using minor surgery or with the use of lasers
If a pap test comes back abnormal, further tests are usually done. Then a doctor might recommend that one of two procedures are done.
- A LEEP procedure, which removes the precancerous cells using an electrical current
- Cryotherapy, which removes the precancerous cells by freezing them
How can I help prevent it?
Because HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact, barrier methods like internal and external condoms offer incomplete protection. This is why regular Pap testing is so important. There is also a vaccination available to help prevent people from becoming infected with many of the strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cancer. The vaccine is recommended for everyone, before they become sexually active. This vaccine is usually administered in schools across Ontario and is covered under OHIP. If you missed the vaccine or have not had the opportunity to get the vaccine in school, but think the vaccine might be right for you, give PPO a call at 613-266-3234 for more information.