In spite of the fact that they pose a significant health risk to anyone who is sexually active, sexually transmitted infections remain something of an abstract concept in our lives. This is, of course, likely due to the fact that these afflictions continue to be treated as taboo subjects, despite the fact that they behave much like any other transmittable infection. They are all too readily associated with an archaic concept of immorality or a lack of hygiene when, in reality, the term STI simply refers to a collection of viral and bacterial infections like any other.
Unfortunately, a direct result of this ongoing reluctance to ‘face the facts’, so to speak, of sexually transmitted illnesses is the fact that some people remain unaware of the tell-tale signs of prevalent infections.
A notable example of this is HPV, or the human papillomavirus, which remains one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world – primarily by virtue of the fact that it typically goes undetected and, as a result, untreated.
It is also easily confused with another STI: genital warts. But, how similar are these conditions, and why are they so often used synonymously? Read more below.
As we mentioned above, the discourse surrounding STIs continues to feel a little rushed, vague, and centred on the precautionary measures we should be taking, rather than identification. When trying to curb the spread of these illnesses, of course, precaution only represents half the story.
HPV is, after all, a difficult virus to prevent against. It presents little to (more often than not) no symptoms whatsoever, and can be transmitted between sexual partners even if a condom is used. Vaginal, anal or oral sex can spread the virus between partners, in addition to sharing sex toys.
HPV is not synonymous with genital warts, although it can cause the condition. There are many different known strains of HPV, and less than half of these target the genitals – fewer still lead to genital warts in some people.
Genital warts are, in some ways, much easier to detect – although the infection is thought to be latent in many cases and, in others, only detectable within a lab test. It can develop as a result of an HPV infection, or it can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has genital warts.
The visual signs of genital warts are crops or 'clusters' or warts around the genitals and anus, interrupted urine stream, and, potentially, itching and bleeding.
If HPV Curable?
At this point in time, there exists no cure for the human papillomavirus. Interestingly enough, it is thought that the overwhelming majority of sexually active adults will encounter the infection at some point – such is its prevalence around the world – but that the virus may remain latent in between 10-20% of people.
Unlike herpes, however, HPV can – and, in many cases, is – successfully fought off by the body’s immune system over the course of around twelve to twenty-four months following infection. Unfortunately, in that time, the chances of the infection spreading from the affected party to other sexual partners are incredibly high – particularly if preventative measures aren’t taken.
So, no, HPV is not curable, but it can be fought off in time. What’s more, the 'complications' caused by HPV, such as genital warts, can be treated effectively to minimise symptoms – and reduce the risk of further transmission.
How are Genital Warts Treated?
In general, using a topical genital warts treatment during outbreaks proves highly effective at minimising the side effects of the infection. An outbreak of genital warts can be an uncomfortable, painful and, of course, distressing experience, and topical treatments designed to stimulate the immune system or inhibit the growth and spread of the warts around the genitals offers significant relief for those suffering recurrent (or even one-off) outbreaks.
With time, many people find that outbreaks become less regular. Depending on the strain of HPV the suffer has, they may go away forever, or return every so often and require further treatment to alleviate the discomfort and appearance caused by the warts.
Those suffering from genital warts are considered to be a higher risk for transmission during outbreaks of genital warts – although it is important to remember that anyone who has contracted HPV holds the potential to transmit it at any time.
Using protection, abstaining from sexual contact during an outbreak, and practicing openness and honesty with all sexual partners is essential for anyone who has contracted genital warts, whether or not they are experiencing an outbreak, and whether or not they are treating it.