What are HPV and Genital Warts?
HPV (which stands for Human Papilloma Virus) is one of the most common type of viral STIs in South Africa. It is a sexually transmitted virus which can cause Genital Warts and certain types of cancer, most commonly cervical cancer. The virus can cause changes to the cells in a woman's cervix. It is the single biggest cause of cervical cancer in women. In addition to cervical cancer, it can also cause vulval, anal, throat, and other types of cancer.
Many types of the virus exist, but only some of them can cause genital warts. Genital Warts may be either flat or resemble raspberries or cauliflowers in appearance. The warts begin as small red or pink growths and can grow as large as four inches across. They can interfere with intercourse and childbirth. Growths may also be hidden or invisible, and so regular testing is recommended.
Did you know? …
HPV are a group of over 100 viruses, some of which can be sexually transmitted and cause gential warts or cervical cancer.
How can I get it?
The virus is highly infectious and transmitted through sexual contact. It can be passed through oral, anal, or vaginal sexual intercourse. It is possible for you to catch it even if you or your partner is wearing a condom. It is almost impossible to know if your partner is carrying the virus, as often the infected person will have no symptoms. Genital Warts do not have to be present on the carrier, for their partner to become infected with the virus. It can also be caught from touching the infected skin as well as through sexual fluids.
What are the symptoms?
It is often difficult to tell whether you have the virus because many types of the virus cause no symptoms. Some types cause genital warts, which may look like small pink spots, raised bumps or cauliflower shaped warts. In men, these warts tend to form on the shaft, head or base of the penis. In women, these warts may form in or around the vagina or the labia or "lips".
The more serious types of HPV are the ones which cause cancers and are typically invisible. Therefore, the only way to find out if you have any of the types is to get tested. For women, it is extremely important to get tested regularly through cervical smears given the risks of developing cervical cancer. For men that have anal sex, having regular anal swabs is equally important.
How do I test for it?
Better2Know offers you a comprehensive suite of tests for women and men which offer a full examination of your HPV status and cervical health for women.
For women, the following tests are available:
- The Better2Know combined PAP smear and HPV test is recommended for women who are concerned about their HPV status and cervical health. This combined test will look for any changes to the cells of your cervix as well as test your sample for High Risk types of the virus.
- The Better2Know PAP Smear uses a small brush to collect cells from your cervix and these cells will be examined for any trace of abnormalities. With this test, and only if any abnormalities are detected, the sample will be automatically tested for the relevant virus types.
- The Better2Know HPV test obtains a sample from an appropriate site and that sample will be tested using a PCR method to detect High Risk and some Low Risk viral types. It should be noted that this test may disrupt the cells of the cervix rendering them unsuitable to PAP testing for a period of time.
For men, Better2Know offers swab tests. Your Better2Know doctor will determine the appropriate site (visible wart, urethra, or anus) for sampling.
Results are available from three days from when the sample is received in the laboratory.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for the virus. In other words, once you contract the virus it cannot be removed with medicine. Many people's bodies get rid of some strains of the virus naturally over time. However, the symptoms of Genital Warts, can be treated. If you have visible warts, then these can typically be removed with lasers, creams, surgery or frozen off (cryotherapy).
If you test positive, your Better2Know doctor can advise you on the next steps suitable for you.
What are the adverse consequences?
Genital Warts may enlarge during pregnancy due to hormones. If the warts become large enough, they could become an obstacle to delivery, requiring a caesarean section. In some instances, warts are passed from mother to child during childbirth, leading to a potentially life-threatening condition for newborns in which warts develop in the throat (laryngeal papillomatosis).
Persistent infections are now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer, and may play a role in some cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, and penis. Studies have also found that oral infection is a strong risk factor for oropharyngeal cancer (cancer that forms in tissues of the oropharynx, which is the middle part of the throat and includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils).