Can HPV be treated?
Currently, there is no medical treatment for the HPV infection itself as there is no cure for the virus. However, warts, benign tumours in the respiratory tract and precancerous developments of the cervix can be treated. The idea behind the treatment of HPV is not to cure the infection itself, but rather to focus on treating the symptoms.
Abnormal cell changes of the cervix
Abnormal cell changes have five main treatment options:
- Close monitoring of the changes of the cell is sometimes recommended before actual treatment. These changes are known as cervical dysplasia, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or precancerous changes of the cell. These often heal without treatment.
- Cryotherapy involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze the cells off.
- Conisation is a procedure that removes the abnormal areas. It is also referred to as cone biopsy.
- Laser therapy burns the abnormal cells off using light beams.
- LEEP, known as loop electrosurgical excision procedure, removes the cells through the use of an electric current.
Genital warts (and common warts)
The treatment of warts is dependent on where they appear in the genital regions. It is best to wait until the warts have all formed, as initial and aggressive treatment may result in repeat treatment as more warts begin to appear.
The HPV types 6 and 11 are commonly known to cause genital warts. They normally grow for a period of six months and then stop. They can also go away naturally. Prescription cream can also be given to apply at home such as Podofilox or Condylox as well as Imiquimod or Aldara.
Wart removal treatments (these can also include common warts caused by the general strains of HPV, not only sexual strains) can be administered such as:
- Cryotherapy – using liquid nitrogen to freeze off the wart.
- Trichloracetic acid – applying a chemical the wart to burn it off.
- Electrocautery – using an electric current to burn off the warts.
Smaller warts are generally more responsive to treatment and larger warts are typically removed or burned off. If you find any warts on your genital regions, consult with your doctor.
How can HPV be prevented?
Having sex increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted HPV infections. Abstaining from sexual intercourse will lessen the risk of contracting the virus drastically (although this is not always a realistic preventative measure for most people). If abstinence is not an option, condoms, although not completely effective, can be useful in helping to limit the spread of warts. Regular check-ups, screenings and Pap smears are recommended.
Contracting general HPV strains often means that physical contact has been made with an infected person who has warts on their hands, feet or joints. It is advisable to try and avoid touching people with warts as far as possible as some warts are highly contagious and spread easily through even a small scratch or abrasion in the outer layer of skin.
If one has common warts, there is a chance of spreading the infection through scratching which results in the wart’s mucous spreading to other uninfected surrounding areas. If a wart ruptures due to scratching, it is best to keep it covered with a plaster or bandage until it has healed.
Hands should always be thoroughly washed, gym equipment cleaned before use, and nail biting should be avoided as far as possible (as this can cause cuts and hang nails which allow entry of the virus). Shoes (such as flip flops) should be worn in public places such as the gym and communal swimming pools as well as in shared showers to avoid plantar warts.
The HPV vaccine
There are three approved vaccines to prevent the infection of HPV. These being, Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix. All children who are of the ages 11 and 12 should be vaccinated as this ensures a line of protection against the virus before higher risk periods later life in during which they may become sexually active.
It is also possible to get a catch-up vaccine until age 21 for males and 26 for females if one was not vaccinated as a child. It is also suggested that those who have a weakened immune system get vaccinated.
Why can you not get an HPV vaccine after 26?
The FDA has only approved the vaccine for males until the age of 21 and females aged 26. The rationale behind this is that by these ages most people would have been sexually active enough to be exposed to the virus.
So, it is not that someone over the age of 26 can’t get the vaccine, this can be done at doctor’s discretion, it is just preferable to be vaccinated prior to being exposed to the virus in order to prevent it.