The Human Papilloma Virus is an issue that affects both women and men. And it is that, when it comes to infecting, HPV does not distinguish between sexes and men are a very important part of everything that has to do with this virus.
And it is that men not only suffer the disease but also transmit it.
An example of the importance of this aspect is that in the United States there are more cases of mouth or throat cancer in men (caused by the Human Papilloma Virus) than cases of uterine cancer (also caused by HPV), in women. Therefore, men must be taken into account when carrying out prevention campaigns and, of course, in vaccination against this virus.
What is Human Papillomavirus?
Well, more than a virus, we should talk about a family of viruses, made up of about 200 microorganisms. Each of them has a predilection for an area of the body. There are those that infect the hands and soles of the feet, producing the well-known skin warts.
But there is another group, about 40 types of HPV, that prefer to infect the anogenital area, the mouth, and throat. 15 of them are considered viruses with a high risk of producing cancer.
In fact, they are responsible for 99% of the cases of cervical cancer (cervix), 84% of the cases of anal cancer, 70% of the cases of vaginal cancer, and 47% of the cancer cases. of the penis, 40% of vulvar cancer cases, and between 16 and 28% of oropharyngeal cancer cases (pharynx, larynx, and mouth).
In short, HPV is much more than uterine cancer that affects only women.
According to Dr. Jesús de La Fuente, Head of the Gynecology and Obstetrics Section at the Infanta Leonor Hospital in Madrid, in our country, infections are usually caused by two subtypes of this virus, HPV 16 and 18.
“This is not by chance, because they are the types of human papillomavirus that have best learned to hide and avoid being destroyed by our defenses. And it is that viral persistence is the key. As they are the most resistant in our body, they are the most capable of producing important lesions and cancer ”.
One of the first aspects that is important to clarify is that this virus is transmitted by direct contact between infected surfaces, either skin to skin, mucosa to mucosa, or skin to the mucosa.
Logically, the main route of transmission of human papillomaviruses found in the sexual organs are sexual intercourse with or without penetration, and digital-genital and oral-genital contacts.
It is estimated that approximately 80-90% of people who have sex will have contact with HPV, at various times in their lives. And we say people because, we insist, this type of virus does not distinguish sex or age when it comes to infecting.
Fortunately, and despite being so frequent, initial contacts with the virus in most cases are controlled thanks to our immune system and do not cause any problems.
“However, throughout our sexual life, it is very likely that we have contact with HPV several times, so that there may come a time when our immune system is not able to control the infection and, as the saying goes, “So much does the jug go to the source that it ends up breaking “, that is, it can generate a significant health problem, “explains Dr. de La Fuente.
The only effective way to prevent HPV infection is vaccination. The rest of the measures are not entirely effective.
The use of a condom is always recommended, not only against HPV but against any sexually transmitted infection. But it must be emphasized that its use does not completely prevent contact with the human papillomavirus, for several reasons.
The first is because when it is used sometimes it is not used well, since it is not put from the beginning of the relationship.
The second reason is that the condom does not protect the entire surface that comes into contact with another during sexual intercourse (the scrotum, the mons pubis, the vulvar lips …).
And finally, because the impermeability of the condom to the virus is not entirely clear. Even so, it is best to use it if we have sex with unstable or risky partners.
Disease without symptoms and without treatment
HPV infections have no symptoms in most cases. And since the disease goes unnoticed, the infected person can transmit it without being aware that they are doing so.
In addition, and this is another of the great problems, some of the asymptomatic lesions produced by the virus can lead to cancer. Only tests such as cytology or the HPV test can look for these types of lesions.
On the other hand, human papillomavirus is not like other infections, which with some drug can kill them. There is no treatment that eliminates this virus, and when the infection appears, the only thing that can be done is to solve the damage it produces (elimination of genital warts, treatment against cancer, or previous injuries).
By doing so, the virus present in the area that has been treated is eliminated, but it is not eliminated from other more remote areas where it may be housed, hidden.
Another particular aspect of this virus is that when a man or a woman overcomes an HPV infection, they do not always generate adequate defenses to avoid a new infection by the same virus.
And it is that it has the peculiar ability to pass ‘hidden’ before the immune system. That is why vaccination becomes the fundamental weapon to defend against it.
Vaccination the best form of protection
Now that there is so much talk about viruses and the search for effective vaccines, one that is already available is that of HPV. And its administration is the only efficient way to avoid being infected by this virus.
The best time to get vaccinated against HPV is before having the first sexual relations. In Spain, the state-funded calendar includes the vaccine for girls at 12 years of age. Yes, only for girls.
For children, it is not included in the vaccination schedule, but both pediatricians and gynecologists recommend its administration also in men, because they can suffer the infection and because they transmit it, as we have already seen.
But it’s never too late to get vaccinated against HPV! If an older woman or man decides to get vaccinated, they can and should do so, because at some point in their life they may be in contact with the human papillomavirus. Vaccination is possible even if you have already had the infection.
There is another way to prevent HPV before it causes cancer or pre-cancer lesions. But, today, this is only possible in the uterus through cytology or an HPV test, but not in the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, or oropharyngeal area.
The influence that HPV has on the development of cancer of the uterus, anus, vagina, and penis, fully justifies the insistence on talking about vaccination in both women and men. And it is that this virus is there and, with a high probability, we will run into it at some point during our sexual lives.