What is the human papilloma virus?
The HPV virus is the most common STBBI, particularly among young people. This STBBI is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), is transmitted by sexual relations or other intimate contact.
There are several types of HPV, some of which may have serious consequences.
HPV infection is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI). 70% to 80% of sexually active men and women will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetimes.
How do you get HPV?
- From sexual relations with penetration of the penis in the vagina or anus;
- From oral sex;
- When sex toys are shared;
- From intimate contact (skin-to-skin) with an infected person (who may or may not have visible lesions);
- In rare cases an infected mother may transmit the virus to her baby during delivery.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
Often no symptoms will appear for several years.
For those who experience symptoms:
- Lesions appear in the form of warts in the genital area or the anus, and less commonly in the mouth and on the lips;
- HPV symptoms come in many forms and colours: cauliflower-shaped warts, flat lesions or small pimples which may be pink, red or flesh-coloured;
- There may be itching and / or discomfort;
- Sexual relations may be painful.
What are the possible complications of HPV?
Usually warts on the external genital area do not result in complications.
However, certain types of HPV are linked to cervical and/or anal cancer.
There is now a vaccine available to reduce the risk of contracting the types of HPV most commonly associated with cancer.
How is PHV diagnosed?
The external condylomas (e.g. on the vulva or the penis) can be detected by the naked eye. They may be difficult to detect if they are flesh-coloured.
In case of doubt, a health care professional can also perform a biopsy of one of the lesions. The condylomas in the cervix can be detected by means of a Pap test. (A Pap test is when a sample is taken from the cells of the cervix in order to determine whether cancerous or precancerous cells are present. A similar test may be performed in the anus.)
What is the treatment for HPV?
- Burning the lesions with liquid nitrogen;
- Silver nitrate treatment;
- Laser treatment in case of a particularly tenacious wart.
90% of condylomas will disappear by themselves after two years, but there may be recurrences.
A health care professional will prescribe treatment depending on the severity of the symptoms. Follow-up visits are necessary.
How can HPV be prevented?
- Use of a condom is essential. However, the virus can be transmitted if there are infected areas not covered by the condom.
- A vaccine is available that helps protect females aged 9 to 26 against several types of HPV, and has also been proven to be effective for young men. It can prevent the types of HPV that are most often associated with cancer. Ideally, this vaccine should be administered before people have their first sexual experience.
What are the risks for HIV-positive people?
Certain types of HPV are linked to anal cancer, especially in men who are HIV-positive or who have sexual relations with other men. HIV-positive women are also at higher risk of contracting anal cancer.
The condylomas may be more widespread and may recur more frequently in HIV-positive people with HPV. Treatment may take longer to be effective.
An HPV vaccination program was implemented for young women by the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec in September 2008. This vaccine is not currently subsidized for young men, or anyone else who is not eligible for this program.