It's estimated that almost 20,000 teens and young adults will contract the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) each day.
For many, they may not even know they contracted the virus, and the symptoms that do appear will clear up on their own. However, for some individuals, their bodies cannot clear the virus — which can lead to serious health issues in the future.
What is HPV?
HPV is virus — or actually types of viruses (there are more than 150 types of HPV) — quite similar to the virus that causes common warts. HPV is transmitted through intercourse, but it can also be contracted through other sexual activities where genital contact occurs. Since HPV is a virus and some individuals show no outward sign of infection, it's very difficult to determine who may be carrying the virus. This is partially why the infection rate is so high among sexually active people.
Even if a person is infected and shows no outward signs of the virus, it is still present in their system and skin-to-skin sexual contact can transmit the virus. The virus is more likely transmitted when a cut or wound is present. This can be a microscopic lesions created during sex. Many HPV warts are contagious by touch. As with many viruses, HPV can live for a brief period of time outside the body, so it is possible (although uncommon) for an individual to contract HPV by touching something a person with HPV touched.
Diagnosis and Treatment
HPV may present itself on the skin as a clearly-defined lesion like a wart. If you suspect your child has been infected, look for:
- Small flat or slightly raised masses on the skin in or around the genital area
- Apply vinegar to the questionable area and the HPV lesions will turn white
- Visit your pediatrician or physician for diagnosis
There is really no treatment to eradicate the virus. For many individuals, the warts will go away. There is a chance that an outbreak can occur in the future. Some common treatments to address the symptom (warts) are:
- Salicylic acid
- Imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara)
- Podofilox (Condylox)
- Trichloroacetic acid
- Surgically removing the wart through laser, freezing, burning or cutting
I strongly recommend seeing your physician to discuss safe treatment options.
Long Term Concerns
HPV has been linked to several types of cancer: cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal and penile.
There may be no effective treatment for HPV, but in the last couple of years, a vaccine has been released. This vaccine is administered in injections over 12-months. Adolescents ages 9-14 receive 2 doses, Ages 15-26 receive 3 doses. Your physician can administer the medication during an office visit. Studies have shown that the HPV vaccine is highly effective in protecting against contraction of the virus prior to exposure. More importantly, the vaccines help protect against certain cancers that are linked to HPV.
The HPV vaccine is not a substitute for routine cancer screenings.
If you suspect your child may be sexually active or thinking about sexual activity, it's important to have a discussion about the risks of not only HPV but other sexually transmitted infections. And, as always, your physician is there to help with this discussion from a medical perspective.