Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted viral infection among sexually active adults. There are many different types and around 80 per cent of women and men will be infected with the virus in their lifetime.
And while it is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it is not yet a disease.
“HPV only proceeds to cause disease when the infection causes the function or purpose of that particular body part to be disrupted,” says Dr Jessherin Sidhu, Founder of Insync Medical.
She tells us more about its symptoms and preventive measures, and how you can talk to your partner about the infection if you have it.
The symptoms of the HPV
Both men and women alike can get cauliflower-like lumps called genital
warts growing on and around the genital areas if they have HPV. However, some HPV infections may be asymptomatic and may be present without visible growths.
A HPV infection can be diagnosed with a Pap smear, which involves using a well-designed brush to capture cells from the cervix and within the cervical canal. But here’s the thing: while it can be cleared by the body’s immunity, which may develop naturally over time, it can also lead to health complications.
“High-risk HPV lends an increased risk of cancer of the area infected, which may result in cervical cancer for women,” says Dr Sidhu. She explains that cervical cancer is the 10th most common cancer in Singaporean women.
How to prevent HPV
The good news, though, is that it can take up to 10 to 20 years for a HPV infection to become cancerous, so if detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. There are also vaccines that prevent you from getting infected.
“The vaccines are most effective if given before first sexual exposure – those who have yet to be exposed to the HPV types covered by the vaccine. That said, those who are sexually active may still benefit from he vaccine, as they may have not been exposed to the subtypes covered by the vaccine,” she adds.
How to tell your partner you have HPV
Have HPV and don’t know how your partner will feel about it? Dr Sidhu has some advice on how you can have the conversation about it in the best way possible. For one, have top-line information on hand for your partner.
“Let your partner know that HPV is ridiculously common and help them understand that there are many strains of the virus, most of which aren’t dangerous and have no symptoms. You can get it and get over it without ever even knowing, and unless it causes untreated cancer, HPV is not lethal, and is very likely to simply go away on its own,” she says.
You should also assure your partner that getting HPV does not mean that you’ve been unfaithful, and encourage your partner to speak to his doctor and get immunised against the virus.
“HPV infection can sometimes remain dormant in the body for several years and it is extremely difficult to say when you acquired it or who from,” she adds.
“While there is no official routine screening available for men, your partner’s doctor can keep an eye on his health more closely. It also lets him know that he might be able to pass that scarier strain on to future partners.”