Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Defined

A four-fold increased in its prevalence in the last two decades has recently been reported. At present, approximately 10% to 15% of the 20 million Americans are infected with HPV. The actual number of infected individuals is believed to be more than the stated figures. Many who have acquired the HPV do not physically exhibit its usual clinical manifestations, and so, there is a significant number of individuals who are unaware that they already have the virus and that they are transmitting it to their partners.

Genital warts are mainly transmitted through sexual contact. According to researchers, around two thirds of individuals who engage in sexual activities with an HPV-infected partner acquire the genital warts. The number increases with multiple sexual partners. It is important to emphasize that the transmission of the virus is not limited to an actual vaginal intercourse. The spread of the virus could also occur with anal and oral sex. Once HPV gains access to the bloodstream through a skin break, no matter how small it is, the eruption of genital warts is more likely to occur within three months of exposure.

What is HPV?

Human papilloma virus or HPV is a group of double-stranded DNA viruses that typically cause infections of the skin and mucus membranes, which include the mouth, vaginal walls, anus and cervix. At present, there are more than 40 types of HPVs associated to anus and genital warts.

Human papilloma viruses are classified into two categories: the low risk group and the high risk group. The classification is mainly based on their association to cancer. The low risk group includes the HPV types 6 and 11, the most causative agents of venereal warts or condylomata acuminata. These viruses bring about benign lesions in the lower genital tract and rarely cause the development of malignant lesions. In contrast, though the viruses belonging to the high risk group are not likely to cause genital warts, their effects on the body are more severe. These HPVs are known to cause malignancies of the anogenital tract. HPV-16 and HPV-19, classified as high-risk viruses, are identified in 70% of squamous carcinoma of the cervix.

Viruses are not visibly seen through the naked eye. They can only be identified through a microscope. These microorganisms are in need human hosts in order to multiply and survive. Replication of viruses, including the HPVs, occurs by taking over the cell’s machinery and metabolism after inserting their genetic material within the host cell.

How HPVs Cause Genital Warts

Human papilloma viruses are transmitted through close surface contacts – skin to skin, mucus membrane to mucus membrane or skin to mucus membrane. Thus, it is mainly transmitted through sexual and intimate activities. HPVs commonly infect the genital tract, although there are cases when the genital warts develop in the mouth and anal areas.

Once an individual engages in any sexual activity with an infected person and he/she has an open wound or lesion, the virus gains access and penetrates through the basal layer of the epithelium, the skin’s outermost layer. Within the body, the HPV attaches to and penetrates the host cell. Afterward, it begins to integrate its genetic material into the host’s DNA. Once the virus’ DNA is inserted into the host’s, it would be difficult to control its multiplication as the newly introduced genes turn into a permanent part of the cell’s DNA. Infected cells initially develop into lumps, and later, to cauliflowered-shaped lesions, which is the usual form of genital warts.

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