Papilloma is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the western world these days. According to recent researches, the papilloma virus will hit about 80% of the population, male or female, before age 60.
What is the Human Papilloma Virus?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the general name for 200 types of viruses that attack people. Most types of this virus are transmitted during sex, but unlike the HIV virus, this virus is not transmitted through semen or exposure to infected blood, but delivered through the skin, so having protected sex will not necessarily protect you from infection. In the vast majority of cases, the carrier will never know they are infected and will never develop any symptoms. Their immune system will overcome the virus and black it out completely between six months to two years from the date of infection.
In cases where the virus carrier develops symptoms, those will usually be small growths – just a few millimeters big or warts on the skin. These growths, called “condyloma”, are the result of virus infection and the genetic changes that it causes in skin cells, making them multiply uncontrollably until the result is visible. The virus usually locates itself on semi-humid body areas, so these warts usually appear on the lips of the vulva in women, and rectum, anus, and penis on men. Some strains of the virus may also cause growths on the face or the vocal cords.
These growths can be removed by different methods – freezing the area with liquid nitrogen, cauterization, laser, or an ointment. For further information regarding the treatments of the HPV warts click here.
In some cases, when the immune system does not overcome the virus for many years, the virus may increase the risk of cancer in the cervix, vagina, anus, penis, colon, and in very rare cases- the throat and vocal cords. Even though only a small minority of HPV cases result in cancer, the papilloma virus is still responsible for most cases of cervical cancer worldwide.
Introduction to HPV
How common are Papilloma and Genital warts?
HPV is the most common STI in the western world today. It is so common that studies show that at any point in time 26.8% of 14-59 year olds carry the virus. Up to age 60, at least 80% of Americans will contract at least one strain of the virus. Let us remind you that 90% of infections don’t result in outwardly symptoms, and almost all infections are treated and eliminated by the body’s immune system within months.
What is the difference between STDs and STIs?
An STD, meaning a Sexually Transmitted Disease, is a general name for illnesses that are transmitted through sexual behavior amongst other ways of transmissions.
An STI, on the other hand, is a general name for infections that are transmitted through sexual behavior amongst other ways of transmissions, but not necessarily cause an illness or a disease.
HPV therefore is an STI, since in most cases it does not cause any symptoms, and the infected people don’t even know they were infected.
Genital warts however, are an STD, since they are the symptoms of the HPV infection.
Types of papilloma
As of today, some 200 strains of papilloma have been discovered. These strains differ in their genetic makeup, the symptoms that they cause, and the risk that they carry.
Types of HPV that may cause cancer:
Highest risk: 16, 18, 31, 45.
High risk: 33, 35, 39, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59.
Considered high risk, but haven’t yet been determined unequivocally: 26, 53, 66, 68, 73, 82.
- HPV 6, 11, 42, and 44: These strains are usually responsible for warts on the penis, vagina, or anus.
- HPV 2, 7: These strains may cause warts on different areas of the body.
- HPV 1, 2, 4, 63: These strains are usually responsible for warts on the feet.
- HPV 1, 2, 4, 63: These strains are usually responsible for warts on the feet.: These strains are usually responsible for small flat warts, usually on the face.
- HPV 6, 7, 11, 13, 16, 32: These strains are usually responsible for warts on the pharynx and the vocal cords.
In addition there are about 15 more types that can cause a very rare phenomenon – “Epidermodysplasia verruciformis” – a very large scale growth, mainly on the hands and feet. Only a few cases of this phenomenon have been documented.
How is the papilloma virus (HPV) diagnosed?
In cases where a genital wart has developed, many times a dermatologist/STD expert can diagnose HPV based on their experience with skin growths. These growths usually have a familiar structure, and may appear cauliflower-like.
For women, a cervical swab is usually needed. This test, called Pap (Papanicolaou), is included in most health insurance plans.
The Pap Test
The Pap test, named and invented by Georgios Papanikolaou, involves the insertion of a long sterile Q-tip down the vagina, swabbing the cervix, and examining the results under a microscope.
There are two types of Pap tests – regular and thin. The thin test has been proven to be more reliable and is thus more often used. The American Cancer Society recommends women who have been exposed to the virus be checked yearly for three years.
The Pap test is administered by a gynecologist, and depending on different parameters may be included in your health insurance plan. If the parameters are not met, the test can be had privately for around $50.
The PCR Test
Another test, which is more reliable, is called PCR. This test, which is performed by analyzing a swab of the infected area, allows direct detection of the HPV DNA and is highly recommended for women found infected with the virus, or those that are undergoing various treatments. This test is generally not included in health insurance plans and may be purchased privately for just under $200.
The PAP test – what can you expect?