Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is commonly known as a sexually transmitted infection that causes cervical cancer only. However, it may come as a surprise to many that there are reported cases of HPV in individuals with no history of sexual contact causing non-cancerous wounds.
This blog aims to shed light on non-sexual transmission as part of Cervical Health Awareness Month, providing valuable insights beyond conventional beliefs about HPV transmission.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted DNA virus that causes human skin infection in the form of small wart-like growths on the skin and mucous membrane. There are over 150 types of HPV that live on the body, categorized into high-risk strains and low-risk strains that transform normal cells into abnormal cells.
The major challenge of this virus is that many people don’t know that they are affected by HPV, as it shows no symptoms and has a tendency to shed off by itself. Every HPV infection doesn’t lead to cancer, but in some cases, HPV persists for a longer duration in the body and takes many years to develop cancers of the cervix, anus, oropharynx, vagina, vulva, and penis.
This HPV is classified into two types:
- Low risk HPV:
Low-risk Human Papillomavirus (LR-HPV) refers to a group of HPV strains that are generally associated with benign conditions, such as genital warts. While these infections do not typically lead to cancer, they can cause discomfort and concern for those affected. HPV-6 and HPV-11 are known to cause genital warts.
- High risk HPV:
High-risk Human Papillomavirus (HR-HPV) refers to a group of HPV strains that pose a greater risk of causing cancer. Persistent infection with these high-risk strains plays a crucial role in the onset of several types of cancers, particularly cervical cancer. Among the notable high-risk HPV strains are HPV-16 and HPV-18, which account for the majority of HPV-associated cancer instances.
Prevalence of high-risk strains that cause cervical cancer
The HPV 16 and 18 strains are known to cause cervical cancer.
Risk factors for cervical cancer
There are numerous risk factors that can lead to HPV infection, which in turn can potentially result in cervical cancer.
- Sexual history
- Weak immune system
- Long usage of birth control pills
- Multiple full-term pregnancies
Transmission of HPV infection
An HPV infection is a widespread condition that can affect anyone at any time through skin-to-skin contact. While it is considered a sexually transmitted infection, there is also a significant risk of non-sexual transmission.
HPV infection can contract sexually from an infected person through:
- Vaginal intercourse
- Oral intercourse
- Anal intercourse
- Use of sexual aids
- Any close skin-to-skin contact that can happen during different sexual activities.
Non sexual transmission
When an infected individual comes into contact with someone who has a cut or abrasion on their skin, there is a high likelihood that the virus will enter the body.
Human papillomavirus, can be transmitted through everyday objects like towels and clothing (known as fomite transmission), as well as through handshakes or touch, allowing the virus to travel from hands to mouth.
It can also spread through skin-to-skin contact, even without intimacy, and may be unintentionally self-inoculated, as observed in female virgins and children with genital warts.
Furthermore, HPV can spread from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth, possibly through contact with the mother’s genital mucosa, amniotic fluid, or the placenta.
Have an eye on your wounds
It is essential to prioritize the management of cuts and abrasions in order to prevent the potential transmission of HPV infections. The first step is get yourself diagnosed for HPV in case you have a wound for a prolonged duration.
DLW provide an exclusive wound pathogen panel that includes tests to identify HPV 6, 11, 16, and 18, allowing for comprehensive assessment and management of potential pathogens.
In conclusion, it’s crucial to recognize that HPV infection is not solely limited to sexual transmission. The complexity of HPV, with over 150 types categorized into high-risk and low-risk strains, underscores the importance of understanding non-sexual transmission routes.
As we observe Cervical Health Awareness Month, shedding light on the potential for HPV transmission beyond conventional beliefs is essential for comprehensive awareness and prevention efforts. Let us continue to educate and empower individuals with valuable insights beyond conventional beliefs about HPV transmission for a healthier future.