New month, new topic! We are dedicating February to a very important topic, which sometimes does not get enough attention even though it is so common. Wondering what we are talking about? Well, no other than one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, HPV.
What is HPV and what diseases can it cause? Let’s dive in!
HPV stands for Human papillomavirus and it is one of the most common dermatologic and sexually transmitted infections. Almost every sexually active person will get infected with HPV at one point during life.
Currently, over 200 types of HPV have been discovered. Only a few are considered high risk and potentially cancerous. HPV can be classified based on its risk of developing various conditions such as genital warts or cancer:
High risk: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73, 82
Probable high risk: 26, 53, 66
Low-risk: 6, 11, 40, 42, 43, 44, 54, 61, 70, 72, 81
How common is HPV?
Globally , HPV has a prevalence of 12% in women and men, with a preponderance in Africa and Oceania
Worldwide, the highest prevalence of HPV infections can be seen in young adults (24% of cases are found in women less than 25 years old) and declines with older age
It is more common in men than in women, but the infection lasts longer in women
It is one of the major cause of infection-related cancer, both in women and men
It is linked to be the cause for 96% of cervical cancers, 93% of anal cancers, 64% of vaginal cancers, 51% of vulvar cancers, 36% of penile cancers and 63% of oral cancers. Therefore it has a high mortality rate, especially in developing countries.
The majority of the HPV infections (70-90%) do not present symptoms and can disappear in up to 2 years (thanks to the immune system), but some types of HPV that are high risk can lead to precancerous wounds and cancer
Amongst the high risk types, 16 and 18 types of HPV have the highest oncogenic (cancerous) risk. HPV16 is the most frequent high risk type (3.2% of women) followed by HPV18 (1.4%)
Transmission and factors that increase the risk of being infected with HPV
HPV is transmitted through sexual activities and contact with infected areas. Condoms may reduce the risks of getting or transmitting HPV but can’t protect 100%. HPV can be transmitted through contact of skin as well.
Multiple types of HPV can be transmitted at the same time
Number of sex partners: several studies show a connection between an increased number of sexual partners and the high risk of infection with HPV (both for the affected person and their partner)
What happens if you get infected with HPV?