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HIV and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection spread through body fluids and skin-to-skin contact. There are many types of HPV and they produce a variety of symptoms, including genital warts and cervical dysplasia. Like HIV, HPV can take years to show signs in the body, so even if you haven’t been sexually active in a long time, you could have HPV. Having physical check ups with Pap smears on a regular basis is important. They could save your life.

Symptoms

Because HPV can be in your system for a long time, you may not have any symptoms – lots of people don’t. But if you do have symptoms, you might notice:

  • unusual growths or warts on or around your vagina- they’ve been described as looking like cauliflower
  • itching, pain, bleeding or spotting between periods
  • unusual vaginal discharge

Treatment

HPV treatments vary depending on the type of HPV you have and the symptoms it produces. Treatment for genital warts will be different than treatment for cervical dysplasia.

If you have genital warts, they may disappear on their own. Nevertheless, the virus stays in your body and you can still transmit it to partners. Warts can be treated with a topical cream (treatment may last a few months) or with liquid nitrogen. If you think you might be pregnant, tell your care provider, because some treatments shouldn’t be used during pregnancy.

If you have cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells of the cervix), a follow up test to your Pap smear will indicate what needs to be treated. Removal of abnormal cells is usually done by:

  • Cryosurgery: Liquid nitrogen is applied to the area to freeze the cells, which then die
  • Laser treatment: A laser light beam removes abnormal tissue
  • Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) uses a fine wire charged with an electrical current to remove the tissue
  • Cone biopsy: A cone shaped cut removes the abnormal tissue

If the condition has progressed to cervical cancer, surgery might be needed.

Preventing HPV Infection

HPV is easily transmitted, so protect yourself through safer sex, using:

  • male or female condoms
  • gloves
  • dental dams
  • finger cots

Get regular Pap tests in order to diagnose and treat infections early.

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