We have all heard whisperings about HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), but you might not be one hundred percent sure what it actually is. Never mind how it can be caught, diagnosed and ultimately how it can be treated.
Here are some of the common assumptions about HPV and some myth busting answers…
MYTH: “HPV is extremely rare, no one I know has got it’.
REALITY: HPV is, in fact, one of the most common sexually transmitted infection. Nearly all sexually active men and women are likely to get it at some point in their lives and sometimes they don’t even realise that they have got it, which means it can be passed on without people realising.
MYTH: “You can catch HPV from toilet seats.”
REALITY: HPV cannot be caught from toilet seats, however, it is very contagious and can easily be passed on through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who is infected.
MYTH: “You only get HPV if you sleep around.”
REALITY: HPV can be caught if you have only ever had sex with one partner if that partner happens to be carrying the virus. Symptoms can develop years after having sex with someone who is infected with HPV so it can be difficult to trace where the virus originated.
MYTH: “There is nothing you can do to prevent HPV.”
REALITY: You can be vaccinated against the HPV virus, and the vaccination is recommended between the ages of 9 - 26. Your private consultant will administer three vaccinations within a one year period. Using a latex condom will also help protect against HPV, however, the virus can be present in areas that are not covered by a condom so it will not protect you completely.
MYTH: “There are no symptoms to HPV.”
REALITY: In some cases, HPV can go away on its own with no major symptoms, but this isn’t always the case. Genital warts can be a symptom of HPV, these appear as small bumps around the genital area. The lumps can vary in size and be raised or flat, or even cauliflower shaped. If you think you have genital warts then make an appointment with your GP who will refer you to the local GUM clinic or go direct to a private sexual health expert. Genital warts can be treated by freezing (cryotherapy) or by using creams but it is likely that you would need more than one treatment for the condition to be cleared up completely. It’s advisable to refrain from sexual activity whilst you’re being treated for genital warts to prevent passing the condition on to other people.
MYTH: “If you have HPV it means that you have cancer.”
REALITY: In some cases, HPV can develop into cervical cancer and other cancers involving the sexual areas or the throat. There is no way of knowing if the HPV virus will develop into something more serious, although those with already weak immune systems are more at risk. It is advisable for women between 18-65 to have regular screening for cervical cancer, which can highlight any abnormalities before they escalate into something more serious. As cervical screening (or smear tests) are no longer available on the NHS for sexually active women between 18 and 25 it is really worth arranging an appointment with your private consultant.