HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is a common infection that often has few symptoms.
- HPV infection is very common
- Infection usually resolves without treatment
- Vaccination at any age will reduce the risk of reinfection
- Simple treatment is now available for HPV on the cervix
Treatment for HPV on the cervix uses a chemical, TCA, which kills the skin cells containing HPV and allows new cells to grow and cover the cervix. This treatment has been used on other parts of the body for many years and is effective wherever it is used. The treatment is similar to freezing warts on the hand for example.
What is HPV?
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is the name of a group of viruses that cause warts on various parts of the skin. Theses viruses only grow in skin on various parts of the body. HPV are remarkably specific in where they grow. So, for example, the virus types that cause hand warts rarely will cause warts on the feet. HPV types associated with genital warts cause only low grade abnormalities on the cervix.
Should I be worried if I have HPV infection on my smear test?
No. HPV infection is very common and most of the time the immune system will recognise the virus and develop an immune response that will stop the virus growing. However, this may take a number of months or years.
How would I know if I had an HPV infection?
HPV infections on the cervix cause no symptoms at all, and are usually identified at the time of a smear test.
HPV infections on the vulva are associated with genital warts and these can also occur in the vagina.
How can HPV infection of the cervix be treated?
HPV infection on the cervix can be treated in a similar way to HPV infections elsewhere. The method that has been recently validated is using a chemical, TCA, that cauterises the skin of the cervix, rather like freezing that is done on hand warts.
What happens to HPV infection of the cervix?
Just as hand warts disappear spontaneously after a number of months or years, so HPV infection of the cervix resolves spontaneously after an interval of months or years without treatment.
How did I get HPV infection of the cervix?
Genital HPV infection is thought to be passed on by sexual contact, but may have been present for many years when it is first noticed. Very rarely HPV can be passed from mothers to babies (vertical transmission) or by hand-genital contact without penetrative intercourse.
Does HPV cause cancer?
A small number of HPV types (high risk types) have the ability to cause abnormal cell growth that may lead on to the development of cancer if other genetic damage occurs. The virus infection itself, does not cause cancer. Most women with HPV infection will never get a cancer from the infection alone.
Can I be reinfected with the same HPV type?
Research is emerging to suggest that reinfection with the same HPV does occur. In other words, one infection does not confer life long immunity to further infection. Interestingly, and rather surprisingly, vaccination produces much better levels of antibodies than natural infection, and does prevent reinfection.
What is HPV vaccination?
Vaccination against HPV is remarkably effective in preventing these viruses. The vaccine also seems to help prevent recurrence of virus infection and even recurrence after treatment for dysplasia.
The HPV vaccine contains the major protein from the outer coat of the HPV. This protein was found to assemble itself into “virus like particles” which look like HPV but contain none of the DNA that makes the virus infective.