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HPV Virus

The full name of the HPV virus is Human Papillomavirus and is one of the family of papillomaviruses, which is able to infect humans. Like the other viruses in this family, HPV only affects the upper layers of the skin or membranes in the body.

There have been between almost 200 strains of HPV identified but the majority of these create no symptoms for the vast majority of people infected. HPV is estimated to be the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the United States, with nearly 80% of all sexually-active people contracting the infection at some time of their life.

HPV is capable of going away on its own accord and in most cases it does, especially in young women. The body's immune system deals with the virus in the same way it deals with other foreign entities that try to attack the body. People with weak or compromised immune systems may not be able to get rid of the virus as effectively as those with a strong immune system. There are strategies and lifestyle changes that can help you strengthen your immune system for greater protection from HPV.

As we have said, many strains of HPV cause no symptoms while other strains cause symptoms of HPV only in some of the people affected. The most recognizable and most common symptom is warts. This symptom of HPV includes the common warts that appear on the hands, mainly in children; plantar warts that appear on the feet, grow inwards and cause pain when standing or walking; flat warts that occur on the face and neck.

Very rare cases of warts growing in the respiratory tract have been reported, which cause difficulty breathing. Common warts are not as highly infectious as most people think but they can be easily spread through touching the wart or an object that has just come into contact with a wart. Basic hygiene such as regular hand washing, covering warts and careful disposal of these coverings helps to prevent the spread of common warts.

Most people connect warts in the genital area with HPV. These can affect both men and women and may occur on the vulva, vagina, cervix or anus in women and the penis or anus in men. Warts that occur in the mouth, on the thighs or groin area are also referred to as genital warts.

Genital HPV has the greatest implications of all the HPV strains. There are two strains of HPV that are linked to cervical cancer in women; these two strains have no symptoms other than cell abnormality which can only be identified under microscopic examination. This is one of the reasons why women are encouraged to have a regular Pap test; early pre-cancerous cervical abnormalities can be picked up with this important test.

Doctors often advise their gay male patients to also have regular anal Pap tests for the same reason. Cervical cancer appears to be more prevalent in women who have persistent HPV infections, over many years, whether they have symptoms or not.

The spread of HPV occurs during any sexual contact, whether intercourse takes place or not. An infected person, who has, or has not, symptoms, can pass the infection on to any sexual partner. Because visible symptoms can take months or even years to develop, a person infected with HPV can infect anyone they have sexual encounters with. Young people, starting out on their sexual journey, are usually unaware that HPV can be spread by contact with the genitals, even if no intercourse took place.

Education is the key to the control of HPV; people need to be aware of the risks of having multiple sexual partners, that any sexual contact with a HPV infected person can spread the virus, that condoms only help to prevent the spread of HPV but are not fool-proof, that visible symptoms can take time to develop and so you may not know immediately that you have been infected.

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