FACTS: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that includes more than 100 different strains or types. “Low risk” HPV types can cause the common warts which are often found on the fingers and feet. However, like the frog in the fairy tale, “high risk” HPV types can be a lot more than you bargain for: untreated, they can ultimately lead to cervical (and other) cancers.
HPV infections can be particularly dangerous because in many cases they produce no symptoms – though warning signs such as itching and irritation are sometimes apparent.
But fortunately, there are three pieces of very good news. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system can clear HPV infections (both high-risk and low-risk) on its own, generally within two years.
In addition, there are a variety of treatments and procedures which can remove HPV lesions, including topical ointments, freezing with liquid nitrogen, and even laser surgery – though none can reliably eliminate the HPV infection itself. Regular Pap tests can reveal the presence of HPV so that treatment can be started.
Finally, a vaccine is now available which protects against several of the most common HPV types, including specifically those which are risk-factors for cancer.
Now that’s a wish come true.
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