When we talk about human papillomavirus (HPV) we are actually talking about a group of DNA viruses that can infect skin and mucous membranes in humans. Of these, about 40 types have the capacity to infect the anogenital mucosa, producing the most frequent sexually transmitted infection in both men and women today, HPV infection.
Contagion is most frequent in the first years of sexual activity, up to 20-30% of women under 30 years of age are carriers of the virus and it is estimated that 80% of the sexually active population will have had an HPV infection in their lifetime.
It is transmitted through sexual contact, mainly sexual intercourse, but also through intimate genital contact or oral sex, both heterosexual and homosexual.
Most HPV infections will be transient, our immune system will detect the infection and eliminate the virus without us ever having symptoms. But in some cases the infection will cause disease.
HPV viruses are divided into low-risk and high-risk oncogenic viruses according to their ability to cause cancer and are identified by numbers.
Low-risk viruses can cause genital warts (condylomas); types 6 and 11 are responsible for practically 100% of genital warts in both men and women.
High-risk viruses, when the infection persists over time, can cause premalignant changes of the cervix (detectable by cytology) and in some cases cancer of the anogenital or oral area, the most frequent being cervical cancer, 70% of which is due to types 16 and 18. In men, they can cause penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancer.
At present there is no treatment to eliminate the virus, it must be our immune system that detects the infection and eliminates it.
When the infection has already produced lesions, there are treatments available to eliminate them.
Prevention of HPV infection is the best strategy to avoid its consequences.
Vaccines are currently available to prevent HPV infection. These vaccines do not contain viruses, but viral-like proteins that will cause our body to generate immunity against the virus. They all protect against high-risk viruses, preventing the appearance of premalignant lesions and cancer, and some also protect against low-risk viruses, preventing condylomas. All have demonstrated high efficacy and safety, and the most common side effects are mild to moderate pain at the injection site or headache.
The use of condoms also protects against HPV infection, although protection is not total, but 60-70%, because there may be virus in areas not covered by the condom.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)