What Is HPV Infection?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is the most commonly diagnosed STI (sexually transmitted infection) in the world1

HPV is a group of over 200 viral genotypes2. They all may be called HPV but have different characteristics. For instance, only 40+ variations of HPV spread via sexual transmission or contact. Whereas there are 2 genotypes of HPV that actually cause genital warts (soft growth on skin around genitals)3; 14 high risk HPV genotypes, amongst which 2 genotypes (HPV 16 & 18) are related to most HPV-related cancers3. High risk HPV genotypes can give rise to anal, cervical, oropharyngeal (cancers that develop in the throat, tonsils, or at the back of the tongue), penile, vaginal, and vulvar cancers 2.

Having discussed that, there are two kinds of HPV infections2:

1. Low Risk HPV Infections 

These HPV infections don’t trigger any diseases or cancers. They may only cause warts around the mouth, anus, throat and genitals. 

2. High Risk HPV Infections 

High risk  HPV infections are more serious as they can cause several (previously mentioned) cancers. High risk HPV, specifically strains 16 & 18 are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers worldwide4. Besides cervical cancers, other high risk HPV can also lead to anal, penile, vulva and vaginal cancers5

Did you know that anyone who engages in sexual activity has a significant chance of contracting HPV at least once in their lives? In many cases, it goes unnoticed since the HPV infection usually doesn't exhibit any signs or symptoms6.

HPV Symptoms

When HPV infects an individual, the immune system begins to fight the infection immediately (depending on the type of virus). Also, in most of the cases of HPV infection, even the warts don't develop on the skin7

Infection caused by different kinds of HPV imparts varied symptoms, which are listed below-

  • Common warts: They usually appear on the hands and fingers of the infected person. Common warts have an appearance of raised bumps with rough edges. In some cases, they may be painful or even likely to bleed7.  
  • Genital warts: These are raised bumps that can, at times, look like a cauliflower. As the name suggests, they develop around the genitals1. In women, the genital warts predominantly appear on the vulva, in vagina, or near anus. Whereas in men, they appear on penis, scortum or at anus. Genital warts generally don’t cause any irritations but they can occasionally itch or feel sore7
  • Flat warts: These are raised but flat-topped bumps. These can appear anywhere but children commonly get them on their face. Men prominently get them around their beard region while in women they mostly appear on legs7
  • Plantar warts: These warts grow in the most uncommon places as compared to other warts. Plantar warts appear at the bottom of feet (near heel or padded region)7

A high risk HPV infection shows no symptoms. Though, sometimes, a prolonged HPV infection can develop precancerous cells at the cervix. These precancerous cells can further lead to some minor symptoms, which can only be diagnosed with a cervical cancer screening test3. (Precancerous is a term used to describe a medical condition that may further transform into cancer8).  

Furthermore, lesions caused by precancerous cells all over the body might cause symptoms such as discomfort, bleeding, or itching3.

Risk Factors

There are certain risk factors that elevate a person’s chances of getting infected with HPV. They may include7-

  • Age- Children have more chances of acquiring HPV infection that can result in common warts. Also genital warts are most commonly found in young adults and adolescent children.  
  • Exposed wound or damaged skin- An open or exposed wound on skin is more susceptible to warts. 
  • Mutilple partners- Individuals having numerous sexual partners have a higher risk of contracting HPV infection. 
  • Close contact- Being in skin-to-skin contact with someone who has warts spreads the infection. Visiting public places like communal baths, swimming pools, etc. also increases the risk of catching HPV infection. 

How Does HPV Infection Spread?

Since HPV infection is an STI, it spreads through sexual intercourse. Therefore any form of penetrative sex or physical intimacy with the infected person can lead to its transmission1

How To Prevent HPV Infection?

HPV vaccinations can protect you against the infection of human papillomavirus. As mentioned earlier, HPV can lead to warts and even serious conditions like certain cancers2

HPV Vaccines

In India, there are currently 2 globally licensed HPV vaccines available9.

Who All Needs To Get Vaccinated?

Did you know that one-quarter of all cervical cancer cases worldwide are from India10. All adolescent girls (older than 9 years) should get the HPV vaccine, as early vaccination is considered highly efficient. 

HPV affects both the genders equally but most nations (including India) only encourage their female populations for the vaccination. This is so, because most HPVs are linked with high risks of cervical cancer3,11.

Males who receive the HPV vaccine will only acquire partial protection from the virus and related malignancies. It may offer protection against penile, anal, and oropharynx (mouth and throat) cancer. At the moment, only a nonavalent HPV vaccine  (vaccine which contains HPV genotype 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58) is licensed for men in India. If you’re an adult who wants to get HPV vaccination then you may consult your doctor first10

Vaccine Schedule

  • For girls from 9+ to 14 years: Two doses should be administered. First dose at 0 month, second dose after 6 months10
  • For girls 15 years or older: Three doses are recommended. First dose is usually given at 0 month, second after 1 month and third after 6 months10

Children aged from 9 to 10 years old are mostly encouraged to get this vaccination because when we’re young, our body possesses a better immune response. Also, early vaccination can lead to early prevention of diseases10.

Is HPV Vaccine Safe?

HPV vaccinations are safe but some can feel mild-to-moderate side effects at the site of vaccination, like pain, redness or swelling10

Furthermore, it is possible to feel dizzy after the shot. Which is why the receiver of the vaccine must be kept under observation for the next 20 minutes10

Who Should Not Take The Vaccine?

  • Pregnant women10
  • Someone who has a history of severe allergic reaction or had reaction to any prior vaccines10
  • People who are suffering from any moderate-to-severe illnesses are advised to wait until they get better10 

Conclusion

Cervical cancer and other related cancers caused by HPV are life threatening in nature. The prevalence of HPV is greater due to its lack of visible symptoms. It is where LifeCell's at-home self collection test kit comes handy. This test checks for 24 high risk HPVs amongst which 3 are major high risk HPVs (HPV-16, HPV-18 & HPV-45) and remaining 21 are other high-risk HPVs. All of these variations have the potential to develop into cervical cancer, if left undetected. 

Most of the people who are sexually active get affected by HPV at some point in their life but due to unnoticed symptoms, it might get missed. Therefore, screening plays a crucial role in the early detection and effective treatment for high risk HPVs and cervical cancer. 

LifeCell’s HPV Test - Female” gives you an opportunity to assess your health with ease. You can now test and plan the HPV prevention or treatment path & related health conditions from the comfort of your home. Get your HPV test done today & stay safe!