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Human Papillomavirus


Lt Col Flemings
Human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV, is a group of viruses that includes more than 150 different strains or types. HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact and sexual intercourse, and it can infect the genital area of both men and women. Major Spencer, can you tell us more about HPV?

Maj Spencer
Sure thing, Dr. Flemings. Most women who have a genital HPV infection are not aware that they have been infected. The virus lives in the skin or mucous membranes and usually causes no symptoms and will clear without treatment. However, some women do get visible genital warts, or have precancerous changes in the cervix, vulva, or anus. In some cases, symptoms may develop years or decades after infection. Persistent viral infection appears to be a critical factor in the development of cervical cancer.

Although HPV can cause mild Pap test abnormalities, most types of HPV do not have serious health consequences. However, some strains of genital HPV can lead to the development of cervical cancer. To confirm a diagnosis of cervical HPV, DNA testing for the presence of the virus is required.

A vaccine to prevent the types of HPV most commonly associated with cervical cancer and papillomas is available. The vaccine is extremely effective and can be given as early as 11 years of age. However, it’s important to note that women are not protected if they have been infected with HPV prior to vaccination, so it is crucial that women receive the immunization before potential exposure to the virus.

The risk for developing HPV infections increases with multiple sexual partners and sexual activity during the teenage years. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to determine whether a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected.