Papillomavirus, do you know what it is?

There is a lot of discussion about the virus, but not everyone knows what it consists of.

Today, we often hear about papillomavirus or HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), especially from mothers and teenage daughters since the vaccine became available in 2006. Everyone seems to know it, but few have clear ideas and know what a female “enemy” we are dealing with. Getting regularly scheduled STD tests is important to decrease the spread of this disease. Let’s discuss it together to learn more about STD risks and prevention.

Today, we often hear about papillomavirus or HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), especially from mothers and teenage daughters since the optional vaccine became available in 2006. Everyone seems to know it, but few have clear ideas and know what a female “enemy” we are dealing with.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a very common STD. Its importance is undoubtedly linked to cervical cancer. It is now certain that at least 90% of cases of cervical cancer are due to HPV infection.

Types of the virus

The papillomavirus subtypes are more than a hundred different and are classified with a number next to the acronym HPV. It is possible to identify their presence in the genital tract and type them using a simple test, the HPV DNA Test, similar to a vaginal swab which isolates the presence of viral DNA in that area.

The symptoms and consequences of STD Tested infections also vary for the different subtypes of the virus, which can be classified into high-risk strains and low-oncogenic risk strains. These lesions appear as small growths with various appearances and sizes that resemble the top of a cauliflower or flat and sometimes cause an annoying itch. HPV tests show that they generally appear on the external genitals, in the vagina, on the perineum and in the anus area, on the penis and testicles; in some cases, these symptoms also appear in the mouth. However, it is a mistake to believe that you are healthy because you don’t have warts!

Papillomavirus vaccine

The two vaccines for papillomavirus, commercially available since 2006, both protect against HPV 16/18 and only one of the two, the so-called quadrivalent, also protects against HPV 6/11. Since 2014, the vaccination program has included two intramuscular administrations to be carried out six months apart in subjects up to 14 years of age for the bivalent (valid for papillomavirus types 6 and 11) and up to 13 for the tetravalent. Above this age, three doses are provided for both vaccines. The bivalent vaccine is currently the least common, while the administration of the quadrivalent vaccine is also an option for males, positively impacting both sexes. 

Even after age 14, many experts suggest that it is possible to protect yourself with the human papillomavirus vaccine until you turn 20. It is very important to get HPV DNA tests regularly. Vaccination is most effective if sexuality has not yet begun. For this reason, boys and girls from the age of 12 have the option to get this vaccination. At this young age, it is also free. Boys also benefit from this vaccination because they protect themselves from anogenital and mouth-tongue tumours. By vaccinating both males and females, people can limit the circulation of the virus. The STD Lab Test goal is for 95% of girls (and boys) to get the vaccination by 2030.

Prevention and checks

What are these infections?

Beyond the vaccine, women are not exempt from undergoing the actual screening test for cervical cancer, which is the Pap STD test. The Pap test is done during the routine gynaecological visit. You should get a test after the first time after having sexual intercourse, regardless of age. After that, it should be recommended at least every 3 years from age 25 onwards. It is, therefore, not advisable to do this in women who have not yet had intercourse.

Thanks to screening

The possibility of having an early diagnosis has increased, and the mortality from cervical cancer has significantly lowered. Above all, it is possible to identify precancerous lesions early and treat them before they evolve.

If the Pap test results show the presence of the virus, it will be advisable to repeat it after 6 months to exclude a false positive. However, if a positive result is confirmed, you can proceed with the HPV DNA test. This test uses molecular biology techniques to give you a clearer picture of the risk of developing a tumour lesion.

If the doctor deems it useful, we will proceed with a colposcopy. A level II examination that allows direct viewing of the lesion. After a preliminary evaluation of the tissues, chemical reagents are applied to highlight the areas affected by HPV. It is also possible to do a targeted biopsy for histological confirmation.

Prevention certainly remains the best method to control infection. It helps to be careful and to have protected sexual relations, especially if occasional or with multiple partners.

Do not underestimate a weak immune system as another risk factor. This would make it hard for the person to eradicate the infection, thus leaving room for its progression. Other factors that increase the risk are cigarette smoking, being overweight and obese, and being pregnant at a young age.

Cure for papillomavirus

What to do in case of infection? There is no real pharmacological cure for HPV. The most widespread STD Home Test therapies currently act to eliminate internal lesions but do not act to eliminate the infection. Precancerous lesions can only be treated surgically, with laser vaporization in milder cases or with radiofrequency. The conization of the uterine cervix can also be used if it is more extensive. The treatment for warts is salicylic acid-base creams for local use, generally for three months.

The papillomavirus is just one of the STDs. Do you want to learn about the others and more about treatment and prevention using STD Tests? Make sure to get regular HPV DNA tests. Read the article “What are STDs?”.