HPV Infection - More Common Than You Realise


HPV is the acronym used for the Human papillomaviruses, of which there are more than one hundred types that affect humans. Many of us have heard of HPV (most readily thinking of it as genital warts) and are similarly familiar with the term HPV virus. Unfortunately, in relation to HPV, this is about where the knowledge of many ends.

Many people significantly underestimate the prevalence of HPV in society. Scarier still, most people fail to realise just how easily it can be spread – often without signs or symptoms. While some forms of HPV treatment do exist, there is no definitive and complete cure.

What don’t people know?

It goes without saying that a majority of people are surprised to learn that HPV is now recognised as the most common sexually transmitted infection in many parts of the western world.

It is also concerning to learn that an estimated seventy five per cent of people of reproductive age have been infected with a sexually transmitted form of HPV at some time in their life. We need to take note that this staggering statistic relates to people that have been infected rather than those who have merely come into contact with HPV.

Each year in the US, it is understood that more than six million people become infected with HPV and that half of the total number of people infected each year are between the ages of fifteen and twenty five years.

Why is HPV so common?

Essentially, HPV infection is incredibly common but what people really need to understand is that an infected person may never develop any symptoms, including warts and cancers.

Astoundingly to most of us, most people infected with HPV display no lesions or any other symptoms. The only way that HPV infection can then be determined is through testing to identify whether the DNA of the virus is present.

The HPV virus is more common than many people think and, it tends not to be one of the STIs that receives most public attention and efforts to raise awareness. It is also important for people to understand that there is no certainty as to whether the body’s immune system is able to eradicate the HPV virus altogether.

What about testing?

Quizzically, people have been known to test positive for an HPV infection only to have subsequent tests over months and years generate a negative result. Then, these same people have later been surprised by a positive result. It is unknown whether the viral infection is able to lay dormant for a period of time or whether a person becomes re-infected with the virus.

The HPV virus is such that people who have the virus but do not show any symptoms (asymptomatic) can still spread the virus through sexual contact.

HPV and cervical cancer

Some people are also aware of the link between the HPV virus and cervical cancer. While pap smears do not essentially screen for genital warts, it has been found that screening for and treatment of early changes to the cervix (before they become cancerous) has significantly reduced the incidence of cervical cancer. This is true for countries in the western world, but not so for women in developing countries where there is no medical infrastructure or financial backing to implement a screening system. In these countries, the incidence of cervical cancer resulting from HPV infection is significantly higher than rates in developed countries.

It is estimated that approximately 500,000 women across the world die from cervical cancer each year and, in some countries, it is the most common cancer related to female mortality.

The HPV virus and infection is a serious issue and one that many people fail to recognise as so significant. The HPV virus is common and this is largely because a person infected may never show any symptoms, but is still able to transmit the virus to sexual partners.