What is the human papillomavirus?
The HPV is regarded as a serious sexually transmitted infection because of its potential to cause cancer in the genital area. Much of the information about the HPV has been focussed on women because having the virus raises the risk of getting cancer of the cervix. However, studies have shown that men who have contracted the HPV are also at risk of health problems. HPV infection can increase a man’s risk of genital cancers such anus or penile cancer. However, those cancers are known to be very rare.
It was also estimated that more than half the men in the US who are sexually active will have HPV at some time in their lives. Fortunately, men with a healthy immune system, are usually able to clear the virus over time, with no obvious health problems.
How HPV is diagnosed in men
One of the first signs that the HPV may be present is the development of genital warts which can appear anywhere in the genital area, including the anus. These warts are not usually cancerous and are not a sign that cancer is present. During the examination, the doctor will check the entire genital area for warts.
The presence of warts will indicate that a strain of HPV infection is active in the genitals.
Treatment for HPV infection
There is no treatment for HPV infection in men if no symptoms are present – even though a man may suspect that he has contracted the virus. Only when warts appear, and become irritating, will a doctor write a script for creams which can be applied at home. The doctor may also recommend that the warts be surgically removed, or frozen off.
Some doctors discourage the very early treatment of detected warts, as in many cases warts may disappear on their own. It was noted that if warts are treated as soon as they appear, a person may have to undergo another treatment. Therefore, unless warts increase in number and become painful, it is more or less a waiting game to see if they go away.
Research in the US has resulted in a vaccine to protect against certain strains of the HPV, especially those which may result in cervical or anal cancer. This can be given to men and women from as young as 9 through to 45 years of age.
The vaccine is available worldwide, and is a definite life-saver in females, as cervical cancer is often symptom-free until it has taken hold.
Preventing the spread of HPV
Take note that if a partner suddenly has HPV, it does not mean they have had sex with someone else. Like all herpes infections, the virus can lay dormant for long periods of time and may only flare up when the immune system is compromised. Condoms can provide a certain amount of protection from spreading the virus, but as HPV is mostly transmitted by skin to skin contact, there is only around 70% protection. Exposed skin areas can result in the virus being picked up or being transmitted. Limiting the number of sex partners is recommended as a good way to prevent falling prey to the dangerous HPV virus.
Studies have revealed that the only sure way to prevent spreading the virus is total abstinence until the flare-up has passed.
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