HPV: Should We Worry About Human Papillomavirus Infection?

What is HPV? A 2022 report suggested that cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in India, which is caused by the Human Papillomavirus.

What is HPV? A report in 2022 has suggested that cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in India, which is caused by the Human Papillomavirus. In this article, we explore more about it.

When we talk of Sexually-Transmitted Diseases, much awareness has been spread about HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) leading to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). There is a lot of information now present about them on the internet, and a lot of resources to bring timely help to the affected.

But, on the other hand, we need to pay attention to something else too the Human Papillomavirus. It is not new, but it is important that we know about it. HPV causes cervical cancer, and a report in 2022 has suggested that cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in India.

We answer a few questions regarding it.

What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV: Should We Worry About Human Papillomavirus Infection?

As the name suggests, it is a virus. 

Infection caused by HPV usually leads to the development of warts in different parts of the body (hands, feet, face, etc). Sometimes, warts can also affect your genitals, and sometimes the more serious ones can lead to cervical cancer. But, mostly, they are harmless.

There are said to be over 100 types of this virus. Different strains target different parts of the body, out of which about 30 strains have been found to cause genital warts. 

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How does one get HPV?

HPV: Should We Worry About Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Now, this might be a bit confusing. Human Papilloma Virus is not a Sexually-Transmitted Disease (STD), but rather a STI — Sexually Transmitted Infection. 

HPV is transmitted via skin-to-skin sexual contact with an affected person, in the form of either penetrative sex, oral, or anal sex. Most commonly, vaginal sex, and anal sex have been listed as the reason for the spread. It is very contagious, and is also likely to spread through skin-to-genital contact, like handjobs, or fingering, etc. as well.

Since, it does not have adverse effects on one’s health, and does not have any particular test for it, HPV infections take time to get diagnosed, and treated. Hence, even if you have an active sexual life with a single partner, you may get HPV, even if they show no external signs or symptoms of it. 

What are the symptoms to look out for?

There are no particular symptoms of HPV infection. The virus has an extremely indefinite pattern of manifestation, hence, making it all the more difficult to pinpoint with absolute certainty the empirical details of it.

Usually the virus gets dissolved without any external symptoms. At other times, the virus takes weeks, months, or even years to emerge as a wart. It may cause slight tenderness, and mild to medium discomfort.

They go away within a maximum of few days, though it is suggested that a doctor be consulted for genital warts. They are small, cauliflower-like bumps of the genitals, including the vulva for the females, and the penis, scrotum, or the anus for the males.

Different kinds of warts are caused by the different strains of the virus. For instance, common warts usually appear on hands, and fingers, while plantar warts appear on the sole of the foot.

Should I worry about human papillomavirus infection?

To men, no.

To girls, and young women, unfortunately, it is a yes. But don’t let it keep you wide awake,

The strains of virus have been categorized into either Low-risk HPV, or high-risk HPV. The former, which includes type 6 and 11 that cause genital warts, are low-risk since they do not cause major health concerns. On the other hand, type 6, 11, 16 and 18 are typically the strains that cause cancer.

Although cervical cancer is the most common cancer manifestation of the wart infection, it can also cause other types of cancer like throat, vaginal, anal, vulvar, tonsils, etc. But they tend to be on the rarer spectrum.

Can I prevent myself from HPV infection?

The most likely answer to this question is no. 

It has grown to be a common virus. Leading news portal The Hindu reported in September 2022 that nearly 75% of all sexually active adults have had contracted the virus at least once in their lifetime. Almost all cases of such virus die down quickly. Only less than 1% go on to be serious.

There are preventive measures that one can always take to safeguard themselves from the virus:

  • Using condoms: Though it is not the perfect preventative measure out there, it reduces the chances of getting the virus.
  • CERVAVAC vaccine.
  • PAP SMEAR test: Women from 21–65 years of age are advised to get this test done every 3 years. Women over 65 can stop with the PAP SMEAR once three results in a row comes clear.

Is there a vaccine, and who should get it?

In September 2022, the Indian government launched, as part of their AtmaBharat initiative, India’s first vaccine against HPV. It is a quadrivalent vaccine since it provides protection against 4 HPV cancer-causing strains of 6, 11, 16, and 18. People assigned female at birth are encouraged to get the CERVAVAC vaccine from 9–45 years of age.

There were two other HPV vaccines in the market, but due to their international manufacturing, their prices in the Indian market ranged from around Rs. 3500 to Rs. 6000 per dose. But the Indian made CERVAVAC will cost around Rs. 200 to Rs. 400, which is 10 times less.

Though the vaccine works best during the pre-adolescent age, the vaccine can be administered till the age of 45 years. It is a two-dose vaccines for girls belonging to the age group of 9–14 years, and three-dose vaccine for the young women above 14 till 45 years. Everyone is advised to get it, unless:

  • You have a history of life-threatening reaction to any ingredient of the HPV vaccine;
  • You are pregnant;
  • You are allergic to yeast. 

This vaccine was produced by Adarsh Poonawala’s Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), working alongside the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The government plans to work with the schools all over the country to organize the vaccination drive of CERVAVAC within their campus.

This is an informative article, readers are advised to seek a doctor before they decide to get vaccinated.

Image source: Zhanna Happanovich, and LiudmylaSupynska via Getty Images, sudipdesign, free and edited on CanvaPro. 

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Akankha Basu Roy

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