Human papillomavirus infection is one of the most common infections in the world. Since this issue is rarely discussed publicly in the society, people only go to the doctor until the late stage of the disease, which makes the situation worse. Another difficulty is that the virus that has entered the body cannot be cured. The only way to protect yourself from infection is to get vaccinated in time.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a relatively small, non-enveloped DNA virus with a simple structure. HPV is resistant to high temperatures, exposure to ultraviolet light, ether, chloroform, and chemicals. The activity of the virus is neutralized by X-rays.
HPV is not a specific virus, but a large group of different types of pathogenic genetically heterogeneous infectious agents. There are about 600 species in nature, but most of these viruses only spread between animals and are absolutely safe for humans. Of the total number of HPV, only about 100 affect the epithelium and mucosa of humans. In most cases, the virus is transmitted sexually. The likelihood of infection is affected by various factors related to a person's health and behavior.
Diseases related to HPV have been known since ancient times. The documents passed to us mentioned warts on the soles of hands and feet and papillomas on the genitals. However, the opportunity to affect the spread of the virus only appeared in the early 21st century, and an effective HPV vaccine also appeared. After establishing a link between viral infection and the development of malignant tumors (mainly cervical cancer), vaccine development efforts have been strengthened.
All human papillomaviruses known in medicine are classified according to whether they can cause cancer. According to the classification proposed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), HPV has 3 high-risk groups:
- Group 1-high carcinogenic risk,
- Group 2A-may have cancer risk,
- Group 2B-possible risk of cancer.
About 14 types of human papillomaviruses are carcinogenic, meaning that they cause cancer. 75% of cervical cancer cases are caused by the 16 and 18 viruses.
The infection process during HPV infection does not have a typical inflammatory response, because it is the only virus studied that does not enter the blood of the infected person. HPV penetrates the mucosa into the basal layer of the epidermis. It is the lower layer of the skin and is made up of cells that can divide. The continuous splitting process ensures rapid skin renewal.
The average incubation period of human papillomavirus infection is 3 months. In addition, the disease progresses in three forms:
- Latent, when a person does not have any clinical symptoms, but he becomes a virus carrier and starts to infect his sexual partner;
- Subclinical symptoms depend on the serotype of the virus;
- Clinically (obviously) there is a large number of rashes in the genital area.
important!Virus infection and disease are not the same thing. At a young age, when the immune system is fully functional, it can independently remove pathogens from the body. In many countries in the world, HPV screening is only carried out after 30 years, because it did not provide information before that.
Once inside a healthy cell, the virus will begin to produce its own DNA in it. The cells change and grow in morphology and become condyloma acuminata, warts and other skin structures.
In infected cells, the virus exists in two forms:
- Benign-outside the cell chromosomes,
- Malignant-when viral DNA is introduced into the cell's genome.
Interesting facts about human papillomavirus
- In developed and underdeveloped countries, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.
- The size of the virus particles is so small that even a condom cannot prevent infection 100% during sexual intercourse.
- Approximately 75% of people are infected during a single sexual intercourse without a condom.
- Most infected persons are between 20-24 years old, and the main risk group is young people aged 17-33.
- The risk of infection is directly related to the immune status: when immunity is weakened, such as during pregnancy, the possibility of infection increases dramatically.
- HPV itself is not a fatal disease; when the tumor transforms into a malignant tumor, the risk of death increases.
Clinically, HPV manifests itself in different ways:
- Warts are common on the back of the hands, insteps, between the toes, and on the scalp.
- Long filamentous warts (sarcoma warts) on the arm.
- A group of flat warts are slightly higher above the skin in the genital area, along the edge of hair growth, on the skin of the forearm.
- Hereditary Lewandowski-Lutz disease. It appears as a large number of small black warts or obvious pigmentation.
- Condyloma acuminata on the vaginal mucosa and male reproductive organs.
HPV affects the skin epithelium and mucous membranes of male and female genitals, upper respiratory tract, rectum and other organs. Warts, warts and papillomas can reduce the quality of life, worsen appearance and affect self-esteem.
Where to go when sick
Since the disease is usually asymptomatic, it is most often discovered accidentally during medical examinations. Various tumors on the skin—papillomas on the neck, armpits, under the breasts, genitals, and other parts of the body—usually cause concern and seek medical attention.
If any type of papillomas, warts and other tumors appear on the skin, you should immediately consult a dermatologist or dermatologist.
In order to determine the degree of risk of cancer, a cytological analysis of the tissue is performed:
- To determine the carcinogenicity of tumors on the skin, remove a wart and examine its cells to assess whether they have changes. Oncology is evidenced by degeneration or has degenerated into cancer cells.
- To assess the development of cervical cancer, cytology is performed on the cervix and cervical mucosal scrapings. The analysis is based on a technique developed specifically for the early diagnosis of cervical precancerous disease-Pap stain (PAP test).
- In order to confirm the presence of the virus in the body and determine its type, PCR analysis of smears of the female cervical canal and male urethra is required. In addition to cervical screening for women over 30 years of age, molecular biology PCR is also used. This analysis is also applicable to questionable cytology results.
In 10-15% of infected people, the test will detect several variants of the virus at the same time.
important!It is necessary to consult a doctor when you first notice a tumor on the skin or mucous membranes. Early diagnosis of cancer provides a great opportunity for a full recovery.
If there are papillomas on the skin and condyloma acuminata on the genital mucosa, tumor inspections must be performed at least every 2 years.
There is currently no specific treatment for HPV. Although research is being carried out all over the world, a drug for destroying human papillomavirus has not yet been developed.
It has been shown that the risk of HPV infection is directly related to a person’s immune status: reduced immunity, the virus behaves more aggressively, and more often causes warts and papilloma cells to transform into malignant tumors. In this regard, there is a view that drugs in the immunomodulator group can be used as drug treatments for the disease.
However, the clinical efficacy of immunity-enhancing drugs has not been confirmed by any scientific research, and has not been used anywhere in the world except in post-Soviet countries. Most experts believe that the manufacturer's guarantee of the high efficiency and absolute safety of these funds is nothing more than a marketing strategy.
Immunity is a complex multi-component system, and modern science does not know which parts of the system need to be stimulated to fight the virus.
In clinical practice, destructive treatment methods are mainly used-the use of electrocoagulation, laser, cryo-destruction, radiosurgery and chemotherapy to remove warts and papillomas. After being removed for a period of time, tumors on the skin may reappear because destructive methods alone cannot fight the virus. For recurrent courses, repeated removal is indicated.
Specificity of treatment for women
The effectiveness of the treatment and prevention of HPV in women is particularly important because the virus is one of the main causes of the development of cervical cancer. It is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide.
HPV in women is manifested as pale pink papillary growths in the external genitalia, vestibular and vaginal walls, cervix, and urethra. When a gynecologist uses a mirror to check, the formation on the cervix can be detected.
Encourage all sexually active women over the age of 21 to be screened for HPV annually. If HPV is detected during screening, a PAP test is prescribed.
If both analyses confirm the presence of the virus in the body, a more detailed examination is required, including analysis to identify pathological changes in the tissue.
If both examination results are negative, the next comprehensive examination can be performed after 3 years. The risk group includes women who have a negative PAP test but a positive HPV screening result: they are assigned for colposcopy (cervical examination) and biopsy-taking tissue samples for research. The next exam is scheduled no later than one year.
important!HPV is not a barrier to pregnancy and childbirth: the risk of transmitting the virus to the baby is small. If a woman is not infected with HPV and has not been vaccinated for infection, the vaccination should be postponed until the end of the lactation period.
In men, HPV is usually asymptomatic, but men are carriers of the virus and can infect their sexual partners. If papillomas do appear, they are usually located in the foreskin and glans, scrotum, anus, and urethra.
The complexities of treatment include destroying papilloma, with the goal of physically destroying its cells.
Traditional medicine offers many ways to remove papilloma, but it is necessary to understand that removing any tumor on the skin without consulting an expert and cytology can lead to extremely negative consequences. The aggressive effect on cancer cells will accelerate their growth and lead to the rapid development of malignant tumors.
Folk recipes from papilloma removal are worthy of attention:
- Applying celandine juice to the stratum itself and its roots several times a day can help remove papilloma;
- Alcohol tincture of dandelion flower-lubricate several times a day until it disappears completely;
- Spread a mixture of squeezed garlic porridge and any cream or butter on the papilloma in the form of a compress for 2-3 hours.
important!Before using any traditional medicine, you should consult your doctor!
Surgical removal of papilloma
Modern medicine provides a variety of effective methods for surgical removal of papilloma:
- Laser treatment-the effective rate is up to 90%, but there is a risk of recurrence, and the wound healing time is long;
- Cryotherapy is very effective, but the process requires high precision so as not to affect healthy tissues;
- Due to the low efficiency and the risk of mucosal damage, chemical removal is rarely used now.
It is worth removing papilloma in the following situations:
- Significant aesthetic discomfort,
- High risk of injury
- The possibility of degeneration into malignant tumors.
Papilloma can only be removed in medical institutions under the advice of a doctor.
What to do if the papilloma is damaged
Papilloma injury is dangerous, there is a risk of wound infection and accelerated growth of newly formed.
In case of accidental injury to the papilloma, sterile medicine should be used to treat the injured area, and a bactericidal tape should be attached to the wound. If possible, you should consult an expert.
The best treatment is prevention
The main way to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated in time. All developed countries vaccinate girls aged 9-11. For example, in the United States and Canada, boys are also vaccinated to reduce the number of virus carriers.
important!The most effective vaccination is before the start of sexual activity. Although the vaccine is available at any time, it can only prevent the types of HPV that a person has not been exposed to.
Two HPV vaccines have been registered and approved for use. The vaccine is produced in the United States and prevents HPV types 16 and 18 that cause cervical cancer, as well as types 6 and 11 that are common causes of warts, genital warts, and other tumors. The vaccine produced in Belgium can prevent the 16th and 18th viruses.
The HPV vaccine has undergone many clinical trials and has been proven to be very effective and completely safe. They only contain viral envelope proteins used as immune cell antigens. After vaccination, the risk of cervical cancer is reduced by more than 90%.
HPV is a very common infection and in many cases can significantly reduce the quality of life. Although there is a lack of drugs against the virus, timely vaccination and taking serious measures to prevent infection during sexual intercourse will help avoid this disease.