General Health

Everything You Need To Know About HPV

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Human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is an infection seen in sexually active men and women and can present various clinical manifestations from warts (finger-like projections) to cancers. While HPV is mainly transmitted sexually, it can also occur through skin-to-skin contact or via personal belongings from an infected person. Though low-risk HPV infections often resolve on their own, high-risk HPV infections can result in the cervical, vaginal, vulvar, oropharynx, and penile cancers.

What happens when you contract HPV?

According to the Centre for Disease Control, HPV infection is widespread with most of its strains being harmless. However, certain strains of HPV can cause cancers often without exhibiting prominent signs until it reaches an advanced stage.

Researchers have identified 200 types of HPV strains, out of which 40 to 45 are known to affect the genital tract of men and women. In addition, 14 varieties are considered high-risk types because of their ability to cause cancers. Out of these high-risk strains, most result in cervical cancer. 

The low-risk type strains such as strains 6 and 11 often result in the eruption of warts & rashes in the genital region. However, sometimes these strains can cause respiratory papillomatosis on the surface of the voice box, which results in a hoarse cough, pain in the ear, and a lump in the throat. It must be noted even the low-risk strains require medical attention as the symptoms can be recurrent. Furthermore, warts may require surgical removal after a thorough check-up by a gynaecologist or dermatologist

How is it diagnosed?

HPV infections are predominantly diagnosed after the sudden eruptions of genital warts, itching, discomfort, along with redness. Since HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), both men & women should get a thorough check-up by a urologist or gynaecologist if they experience any of these symptoms.  The doctors will prescribe medications to stop the further spread of the infection. A pap smear test for women and a sperm test for men can help detect HPV infections. 

Relationship between smoking cigarettes and cervical cancer

Researchers hint that although cervical cancer is caused primarily by HPV but smoking cigarettes is also a major contributing factor. A recent study showed that women who smoked or were exposed to smoke were more prone to cervical cancer than women who did not smoke. The carcinogens in tobacco act as a catalyst to help convert cervical cells into cancer cells. In addition, smoking also prevents the body’s immune system from fighting HPV infection effectively. Hence, women should consider quitting smoking to cut down the risk of cancer.

Does the infection affect fertility? Can it pass on from mother to child?

No, HPV does not affect fertility significantly. However, there could be a slight possibility of vertical transmission of HPV infection from an infected mother to the infant through the placenta or through the birth canal while delivering. The baby can also contract the infection indirectly through contaminated surfaces and toiletries containing the virus. 

However, it has been found that the babies’ immune systems can fight HPV infections in a few months with minimum complications. To avoid the transfer of infection, mothers can get treated for the infection before delivering the baby.

Why is it important to get vaccinated?

Researchers hint that 80 % of the unvaccinated population will directly or indirectly come in touch with the HPV virus at some point in their life. Hence, it is crucial to get vaccinated to get protection against the cancerous strains of HPV. Though getting vaccinated before having any sexual intercourse is the ideal way to prevent HPV infections, people can also get vaccinated later till the age of 45 years.

Precautions post-vaccination to reduce the risk of reinfection

Other than vaccination, measures that may help reduce the risk of HPV include:

  • Use condoms to avoid infection transmission or reinfection.
  • Women should get a cervical screening done every 2-3 years post-vaccination.
  • If you or your partner have genital rashes or wart outbreaks post-vaccination, inform the doctor immediately & do not have sexual intercourse until the problem resolves.
  • Use dental dams or abstain from oral sex with an infected partner.
  • Quit or limit smoking. 

Foods and natural remedies that help to fight HPV infections

Though there is no definite proof for these remedies, some people may find relief from HPV symptoms by adding these foods to their diet. 

  • Tulsi leaves and turmeric in powder forms are known to have antioxidant & antimicrobial properties, thus, they can slow down the virus and prevent cancer. 
  • A handful of nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts help build immunity to fight infections by providing healthy fats and antioxidants.
  • Taking lemon water, green tea, and taking vitamin C supplements (500 mg daily) boosts immunity and fights off the virus. 
  • Remember to drink at least 2-3 litres of water & fluids to flush out the infections.  
  • Include all-cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, and cabbage in the diet. Additionally, research shows eating green veggies such as spinach, beans, and coriander can help prevent cancer and fight HPV infections.
  • Taking lean proteins such as cottage cheese (paneer), tofu, mushrooms, chicken, eggs, and chickpeas, helps fight infections.

Natural remedies for removing warts 

Some people also resort to natural remedies to get rid of warts. Some of these remedies include: 

  • Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil is known to fight urinary tract infections and minimize warts. 
  • Apple cider vinegar: Applying apple cider vinegar on a cotton pad in the affected areas warts can help shrink warts in 4 weeks. 
  • Lemon: Daily scrubbing of lemon slices in the affected areas, and drinking plenty of lemon water removes warts and aids in complete clearing of the infection in 6 weeks.

However, these natural remedies may not work or might only shrink warts in size and not eradicate them. Therefore, one may opt for dermatological creams prescribed by a doctor or surgically remove warts. 


High-risk HPV infections can result in cervical cancer. Therefore, if you or your partner get exposed to HPV infections, consult a gynaecologist or urologist immediately to get the best guidance. Also, get yourself vaccinated and encourage others to get vaccinated against HPV strains to prevent infection and reduce the risk of developing cancer. 

Have personal queries? Consult an expert online


- Authored by Dr. Tulika Roy


General Health

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