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What is Oral HVP?

Oral HPV is one of the contagious strains of the human papillomaviruses that is classified as an STD or Sexually Transmitted Disease. Research has shown that oral HPV infection will increase the risk of developing oral cancer. STD HPV is transmitted by skin to skin contact during sexual activity, including, but not restricted to, vaginal and anal sexual intercourse and oral sex. HPV affects the skin and mucous membranes of the body which may include the mouth, throat, tongue, vagina, vulva, penis and anus.

There are close to 200 hundred stains of HPV that have been identified. Some strains, like those that cause common warts, are classified as low-risk viruses; others, like those that are precursors to cervical and other genital cancers, are considered high-risk. Scientists still have not discovered why some strains affect the surface skin, while others affect the genital region and why some are precursors for dangerous cancers. They do know that HPV can be easily transmitted by contact with skin or mucous membrane that contains the virus.

One of the factors that makes HPV so contagious and easily spread is that many strains of the virus have no symptoms and other strains won't always produce symptoms in all people who come in contact with them. This means that infected people can be carriers of the virus without being aware, so they can be infecting sexual partners innocently.

Oral HPV is caused by an HPV strain that is sexually transmitted during oral sex. There may be no visible symptoms with oral HPV, depending on the strain of the virus that has been passed on. The most common noticeable oral HPV symptom is warts; these are referred to as genital warts even though they don't appear in the genital area. This is because the oral warts are caused by one of the HPV strains that cause genital warts in both men and women.

Genital warts are usually flat in appearance and may not be noticeable at first while they are only small. They can grow in size and multiply in number in time. Symptoms of oral HPV can take some time to develop – from a few weeks to months, or even years in some cases. This can make it very difficult to identify the source of the infection if you have had more than one sexual partner. The HPV strains that cause genital warts may not produce any symptoms in some people who will therefore not know that they have been infected.

New research has shown that one strain of HPV in particular, HPV-16, is linked with oral cancer. The area that is mostly affected by this strain is the back of the mouth, including the throat, back of the tongue and the tonsils. The same HPV strain is linked to squamous cell cancers of the penis and anus.

Oral cancer can also be caused by alcohol and tobacco although HPV-linked oral cancer is the fastest growing area of this type of cancer. A study conducted by Dr. No-He Park has shown that the cellular structure of the mouth is similar to that of the cervix and vagina and that HPV-16 and -18 target this type of epithelial cell; oral cancers are similar to cervical and vaginal cancers. Dr. Park's study also showed that tobacco and alcohol assisted the HPV to invade the cells. The combination of drinking alcohol, smoking and HPV infection creates the ideal formula for oral cancers to develop.

The main risk associated with oral HPV infection is, therefore, the development of oral cancer; although not all oral HPV infections will lead to oral cancer. However, people who test positive for oral HPV-16 are fourteen times more likely to develop an oral cancer.

Another risk factor with oral HPV relates to people with a weak or compromised immune system, who are less likely to be able to fight off the infection. In many cases of HPV infection, the body's own immune system will deal with the virus and remove it from the body. HPV-induced oral warts are more difficult to treat and remove, simply because of their location.

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