HPV as an STI
Being known as the ‘common cold’ of sexual activity, the emphasis is placed on the 40 HPV varieties affecting the genitals, throat or mouth that are transmitted through sexual contact. These strains of HPV are sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STI’s) and can affect men and women.
Four out of five sexually active people will have had some type of HPV infection in their life.
It is possible to contract the infection from even your first sexual encounter. The tiny breaks in the skin during sexual activity result in the spread of the virus. This normally happens without knowing or without showing any symptoms of the virus and sometimes the infection can resolve itself without causing any further complications.
How is HPV as an STI spread?
Sexually transmitted HPV strains are contracted through having oral, anal or vaginal sex with someone who is infected with the virus. It is most commonly spread through anal and vaginal sex.
Other strains of the virus are, however, also spread through skin-to-skin contact, meaning that intercourse is not always required to contract infection and can merely be spread by touching an infected person or through a small cut or abrasion on the skin. In some very rare cases, an infected mother is able to infect her baby during natural birth.
The virus lives in the body’s epithelial cells – the flat and thin cells which are found on the skin’s surface including surfaces of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis head, cervix, mouth and throat. HPV is attracted to the mucous membranes and moist layers of the genital areas and often results in genital warts. Genital warts are often very small and therefore not always easy to see, as such many people with these do not realise they have them.
Some infections of sexual HPV result in warts developing in the oral and upper respiratory regions, which are contracted during oral sex. The warts are contagious and spread through touching the wart or the fluid secreted when a wart is broken.
Using a condom does not fully protect you from the virus as a condom still leaves other areas of the skin open which can become infected.
Low-Risk and High-Risk HPV
Sexually transmitted strains of HPV are divided into two divisions:
- Low-risk risk of HPVs, these do not result in cancer but normally cause warts in the genital, anus, mouth and throat regions. HPV types 6 and 11 have been known to cause about 90% of all warts that are genital. They also cause recurring respiratory papillomatosis, which is a rare disease where benign tumours begin to form in the air passageways starting from the nose, leading through the mouth and into the lungs.
- High-risk types of HPVs which cause cancer. There are more than a dozen HPV types that are high-risk that have been identified so far. HPV types 16 and 18 have been documented to be the types of HPV responsible for cancers caused by HPV. Other common high-risk strains of HPV are 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58.