How to Prevent HPV

What are human papillomaviruses?

A genital human papillomavirus infection is a very common sexually transmitted disease that can have very serious health consequences. Among those who are at high risk are men and women who are sexually active especially with multiple partners. The HPV virus can infect the genital area of men, especially the skin of the penis as well as the anus and in women, the vulva, vaginal lining, cervix, or rectum.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

An HPV infection may manifest itself through visible genital warts which may be raised or flat,single or multiple growths, small or large, and even cauliflower shaped. But at times, the virus may not show any visible signs of infection, making it very difficult for people to know if they are infected. Infections rarely cause any clinical problems and may usually go away without any treatment. But trying to know if one is infected is very important since HPV infections may lead to certain cancers in both men and women.

How is HPV treated?

Currently there are no effective treatment for HPV infections but there are remedies available to help treat genital warts as well as cervical and penile cancers as a consequence of the said infection. There are no effective tests that can help in detecting HPV infections in men. In women, PAP smears may be able to help detect HPV infections by screening for abnormalities in the cervical area which can also help in halting the progression of cervical cancers through early detection.

Can HPV infection be prevented?

The best way of preventing HPV infections is by refraining from any form of genital contact with another individual. Sexual abstinence is, by far, the most effective way of controlling such infections. But for those who are sexually active, having a long term monogamous relationship would ensure that HPV infections may be limited especially if both partners are sure that they are not infected.

For those who are not open to a monogamous relationship, keeping sexual partners to as few as possible would, in some way, help curb the rapid spread of the infection. Use of condoms may also be able to help in trying to shield an individual against probable infection but may not be able to offer total protection.

In women, periodic cervical cancer screening may help in detecting as well as treating pre-cancerous lesions that may lead to cervical cancer. Currently, there is an HPV vaccine available that may be able to help protect women from the said virus. The said HPV vaccine can be given to 11-12 year old girls and can even be administered to girls as young as 9 years old. The vaccine, also known as Gardasil, protects females from four types of the human papillomavirus which together causes about 70 percent of cervical cancers as well as 90 percent of genital warts.

What preventive HPV vaccines are available?

The Gardasil vaccine, which is produced by Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck), is called a quadrivalent vaccine because it protects against four HPV types: 6, 11, 16, and 18. Gardasil is given through a series of three injections into muscle tissue over a 6-month period.

Gardasil is proven to be effective only if given before infection with HPVs, so it is recommended that it be given before an individual is sexually active. The FDA’s licensing decision includes information about the age and sex for recipients of the vaccine. The FDA approved Gardasil for use in females 9 to 26 years of age.