I had heard about HPV (Human Papillomavirus) and knew about it a little, but it was a routine check-up visit to my gynaecologist that made me more curious to know about it in detail.
When I visit my gynaecologist, I usually have open and interactive conversations with her. I consider this important since there are various biological and health related aspects of a female reproductive system that one should know about. During my recent visit, she asked me to get a test done to check if I had any sexually transmitted infections (STIs). At first, I was taken aback as to why I needed to get checked for an STI. I always had a notion that STIs are caused when having unprotected sex. But my gynaecologist explained that’s not the case. Many sexually transmitted infections, such as HPV can also be caused due to a lot of other transmission methods.
It was during this conversation that we talked about HPV at length. I feel that all women must have this information because awareness is the first step to staying protected.
WHAT IS HPV?
My gynaecologist explained that HPV is a most common STI. Nearly all sexually active people can get infected with HPV within months to a few years of becoming sexually active. Around half of these infections are with a high-risk HPV type which may lead to cervical cancer.
Who is at risk of getting HPV?
One can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. One can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.
Other factors that put a person at risk are age, a weak immune system, cut or injured skin and coming in contact with infected surfaces.
How does HPV spread?
- Skin-to-skin contact
It’s spread mainly by intimate skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, oral, or anal sexual activity.
- Oral Sex or Deep Kissing
It can spread through any kind of sexual activity such as oral sex or deep kissing.
- Other ways of spreading
The virus can also be spread by genital contact without sex, but this is not common.
Why should you and I care about HPV?
Though the body’s immune system clears out the virus on its own, if it remains, it may lead to health problems. Additionally, HPV has no signs or symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV! It’s more common than you and I think.
Here are more facts that would surprise you.
There are over 100 types of HPV. Out of these, typically, HPV can be categorised as high-risk HPV, i.e., the virus that is cancer causing or low-risk HPV i.e., non-cancer causing. At least 14 of the 100 types are high-risk types.
80% sexually active Men & women get infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime!
How can we stay safe from HPV?
My gynaecologist told me that there is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause like genital warts, cervical precancer, and other HPV-related cancers.
Furthermore, there are preventive measures that can be followed to avoid getting HPV. The preventive measures include safe sex, using condoms and dental dams, regular screening and getting a vaccination to safeguard your health.
It is best to consult your doctor about the recommended age to take the HPV vaccine.
There, I have shared most of the facts that my gynaecologist discussed with me around HPV. Many of us may feel shy talking about HPV, thinking only those who have unsafe sex need to be concerned. Others think that the chances of them getting infected are low. Many others don’t know whom to ask, especially because you need the facts and not some hearsay or half-baked knowledge about HPV.
That’s the reason I feel that the next time you visit your gynaecologist, is the best time to ask her/him about HPV, the risk factors, the way it is spread, and how you can be protected.
As today’s women, we are the epitome of strength, love, sacrifice, and courage who are always striving to be self-sufficient, well aware, and financially independent. Knowing about HPV is a very important aspect of our journey toward empowering ourselves. I will strongly recommend every woman to open up and discuss about HPV with their gynaecologists. Let’s take this step together and bring a change.
You can know more about HPV here and talk to the expert about prevention.
Issued in public interest by MSD India.
This information is for awareness only. Please consult your doctor for more information on HPV.