What are HPV and Genital Warts?

HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a very common family of viruses and some important types can be sexually transmitted. Most HPV infections will not cause any physical symptoms, however, some types of the virus can cause genital warts and certain other types have been conclusively identified as causing cervical cancer, penile and rectal cancers. It is also known that certain types of the HPV virus are also responsible for causing cancers of the throat and esophagus.

Other lower risk types of the Human Papilloma Virus can cause Genital Warts. Genital Warts can be either flat in appearance, or resemble raspberries or cauliflowers, and are found in the genital area and around the anus. Some warts may also be hidden or invisible.

The HPV virus types that cause Genital Warts are highly contagious and can be spread easily from person to person through physical contact. Regular testing is recommended to ensure you are aware of your status and that you do not pass these viruses on to your partners.

Did you know? …

Over 170 types or HPV viruses have been identified, and over 40 are typically transmitted through sexual contact.

How can I get HPV/Genital Warts?

HPV is highly infectious and can be transmitted by skin to skin contact with an infected person. It can be passed through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Wearing a condom will not always protect you because the skin surrounding the genitals may also be infected with the virus.

The infected person can show no symptoms, meaning that it is almost impossible to know if your partner is carrying the virus. Some people can transmit the virus to others even if they do not display symptoms of the infection, meaning that you can get Genital Warts even if they are not present on the infected person.

How do I know if I have HPV/Genital Warts?

The HPV virus is often difficult to detect because most infections cause no immediate symptoms. Some virus types cause Genital Warts, which are easier to detect if warts form in a visible part of your genitals. The warts in men tend to form on the shaft, head or base of the penis, and women find warts typically around the vagina or the labia, but they can also be found inside the labial folds.

The more serious types of HPV are typically invisible. These viruses are the ones that cause cancers. The only way to find out if you have any of these types is to get tested. Regular cervical screening for women will pick up abnormalities before they become cancerous. It is also important for men to have regular anal swabs if you have anal sex.

How can I test for HPV?

Better2Know offers a comprehensive range of tests for both women and men. The tests for women include a full examination of HPV status and cervical health. 

Tests available for women are:

  1. A PAP smear, where cells are collected from the cervix using a small brush. The cells are then examined for any trace of abnormalities.
  2. A HPV test, where a sample is collected from the appropriate site and is tested using a PCR method to detect up to 20 High Risk and Low Risk viral types. This test may disrupt the cells of the cervix making them unsuitable for a PAP test for a period of time, so it may be better to have the combined test if you are worried about both.
  3. A combined PAP smear and HPV test. This is recommended for women concerned about their cervical health and HPV status. This test looks for changes to the cells of the cervix, and tests for 20 types of the viruses.

Better2Know offers swab tests for men. Swabs can be taken from the urethra, anus, or any visible warts, however, your Better2Know doctor will determine the appropriate site for sampling.

Results are available 3 days from when the sample is received in the laboratory.

How is HPV/Genital Warts treated?

There is no treatment that can get rid of the virus completely, so once you contract the virus it cannot be eliminated with medicine. In some people, the body can clear the virus on its own after some time. However, treatment can get rid of any visible signs of the infection such as genital warts. If you have visible warts, then these can be removed with lasers, creams, surgery or frozen off (cryotherapy).

There are some effective vaccines available which provide protection against some of the more common types of HPV. Please contact Better2Know to arrange your HPV vaccine.

What are the risks if HPV/Genital Warts is left untreated?

Pregnant woman with Genital Warts should seek advice because sometimes the warts can grow more quickly during pregnancy due to hormones. If the warts become large enough, they can obstruct the baby from being delivered, requiring a caesarean section. A caesarean section may also be needed to prevent the infection from transmitting to the baby during delivery. If the baby is infected, it can result in serious medical conditions including problems breathing, and severe, sometimes fatal, developmental disabilities.

Studies have shown that virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. The number of anal cancers and oropharyngeal cancers (cancer of the middle part of the throat including the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils), caused by HPV are also high. The virus can also cause a high percentage of vaginal and vulval cancers and is also a leading cause penile cancers.

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