Introduction to Human Papiloma VIrus

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that infects the skin, genital area and lining of the cervix. There are about 100 different types of papilloma viruses (Some types of papillomaviruses cause warts on the skin, some types cause warts in the anal and genital areas, and some types cause cervical cancer.)

Many different HPV types cause cervical cancer. Two types (16 and 18) are the most common, accounting for about 7 of every 10 cases of cervical cancer. Similarly, many types of HPV cause anal and genital warts; but only two types (6 and 11) account for about 9 of every 10 cases.

There are two FDA approved vaccines for prevention of HPV.

i)              GARDASIL, contains HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 and  

ii)             CERVARIX, contains HPV types 16 and 18 only.

HPV is transmitted from one person to another by genital contact. Although this most often occurs during sexual intercourse, it can also occur during oral or anal sex or through genital-to-genital contact in the absence of sexual intercourse.

Although most HPV infections are self limiting, some persists. Every year in the United States, about 26,000 HPV-associated cancers occur; 18,000 in females and 8,000 in males. The most common types of cancer caused by HPV infections are cervical cancer and oropharyngeal cancers. New born babies can also become infected when they pass through the birth canal of a mother infected with HPV. Some of these children go on to develop a long-term infection of their windpipe that is occasionally fatal. This disease is called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.

Sometimes people can be infected with HPV and may become unaware of it. The best way to avoid genital infection with HPV is abstinence. The chances of getting HPV can be decreased by having sex with only one HPV uninfected partner. Use of condoms may also decrease the chance of getting HPV but they do not always work to prevent the spread of the infection. Because other than abstinence, none of these can completely protect someone from becoming infected or prevent the spread of this infection, the development of a vaccine was an important tool for preventing future generations from experiencing the devastation caused by HPV.

CDC has recommended that all adolescents between 11 and 12 years of age should be vaccinated for HPV. Either of the HPV vaccine can be given to girls and young women between 9 and 26 years of age in series of three shots maintaining a gap of one or two months between first and second and third is given six months after the first vaccination. Boys between 9 and 18 years old can be vaccinated only with Gardasil which protects against four types of HPV; the dosing schedule is the same as mentioned above for girls.

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