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What is HPV 16 and 18

What are HPV -16 and -18 and Their Implications?

HPV-16 and -18 are the two strains of the Human Papillomavirus that have been linked irrefutably with cervical cancer in women. Statistics show that virtually all women diagnosed with cervical cancer are also infected with one or both of these HPV strains. This makes these strains of HPV among the highest risk of all the identified HPV strains.

HPV is transmitted through skin to skin contact with an infected person. All sexually active men and women are at risk of being infected with HPV, with those up to the age of 26 being in the high-risk category. This highly contagious virus is classified as a Sexually Transmitted Disease and is the most common STD in the United States at the present time.

One of the difficulties with HPV-16 and -18 is that neither strain produces any symptoms. This means that women can be unaware that they have been infected.

Cervical cell abnormalities can be picked up during a Pap test but if an infected woman doesn't have regular Pap tests, as strongly recommended by health authorities, she could have already have developed early cancer, or worse, before she realizes that something is wrong. A Pap test doesn't actually diagnose the presence of HPV but the cell abnormalities would lead to further investigation and their advance to cancer could be halted.

There is an HPV tests available for women and those over the age of 30 are advised to ask for an HPV test to be done at the same time as their regular Pap test. Both tests can be carried out on the one sample collected during the Pap test. The reason for women over 30 need to be tested is that HPV can be slow to develop and the strains 16 and 18 can take years to surface. There is currently no HPV test for men.

An HPV vaccine has been developed that aims to protect against the two strains that can lead to cervical cancer in women. These are designed to be administered to girls aged 9 to 12, before they become sexually active and risk HPV infection. Older women in their twenties might also get protection from the vaccine if they haven't been exposed to these two high-risk strains of HPV.

Of the two brands of vaccine available, one targets just these two high-risk strains while the other, Gardasil, also targets two of the strains that lead to other genital cancers such as vaginal, vulval, anal, penile and oral. Gardasil can be given to young girls and women as well as boys aged 9 to 15.

Many cases of HPV clear away on their own without any intervention, which is good because there is no cure. HPV treatments are aimed at the symptoms of the virus. A strong immune system is the best defence against HPV infection as it is capable of removing the virus from the body. The strains of HPV that produce the symptom of genital warts are different to HPV-16 and -18.

The best way for a woman to protect herself against the potentially dangerous HPV-16 and HPV-18 is to maintain a strong immune system with healthy lifestyle choices, to have regular Pap tests and be vaccinated against these HPV strains if she is in her early twenties.

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