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Human Papillomavirus (Genital Warts, HPV) by Rebecca Lashley

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Human Papillomavirus better known as HPV is a very common virus mainly found in teenagers and adults. What makes this virus so common is that there are over 100 strains; roughly 40 of them affect the genital area along with the mouth and throat. The other 60+ strains affect the other parts of the body mainly warts on the hands and feet.

HPV lives in the epithelial cells of the human body and can be transferred from skin-to-skin contact. So any openings or cuts in the skin can raise the chance of getting HPV. It also currently affects around 20 million Americans at any given time. Usually, no symptoms are present in an infected person, and they usually clear up by themselves over a few years. According to the American Social Health Association, they estimate that around 75% of sexually active people aged 15-49 have had at least one form of HPV at some point in their life.

The 60+ strains of HPV that do not affect the genitalia, are mainly cosmetic without long-term effects. These strains can cause several different types of warts including common- which appear as rough raised bumps that usually form around the palms, fingers, and fingernails; plantar- grainy and hard growths that usually occur on the feet (these tend to be the most painful as they are in areas that receive the most pressure); and flat- these are flat slightly raised bumps that are slightly darker than the skin tone and are mainly found on the face, neck and arms of children. Some may be painful but are only un-aesthetically pleasing and do not usually pose any long-lasting effects.

The remaining 40 or so types of HPV directly affect the genitalia, a few of these strains can pose long-term effects. Genital warts can appear as small cauliflower-like bumps, lesions, or tiny protrusions that look like stems. These strains of HPV that cause genital warts are not associated with the strains that cause cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 have been linked to causing 70% of cervical cancer in women. These types along with a few others have also been linked to vulva, penis, anus, cervical, vaginal, and even oropharynx cancer. Genital HPV is mostly transferred from forms of sex such as oral, vaginal, and anal penetration, and mutual masturbation. Condoms are not a great form of protection since genital HPV is found in mucus membranes so you can still get it on your thighs, buttocks, and other areas fluid might reach.

There is no direct cure for HPV since it is a virus, but you can treat the symptoms. Since most types of HPV clear up on their own, some patients choose to live with the warts. While others can purchase over-the-counter medicated creams or visit a doctor for professional medical treatment. Some types of treatment include Cryotherapy – freezing the wart(s) with a liquid nitrogen therapy; Trichloracetic acid – a chemical applied to the surface of the wart; Laser vaporization – excision of the wart; Electrocautery – burning off warts with an electrical current; Surgery – removing the cells using a scalpel in a surgical setting.

Prevention of HPV can be tricky at best as a condom does not fully protect against it. What is most recommended is the use of a condom for any sex act from start to finish along with having a monogamous partner. Also the lower number of sex partners the better chance of not contracting it. The only way to fully protect oneself is to completely abstain from any type of sexual activity.




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