Papilloma Virus Infection and Prevention

The human papillomavirus (Human Papilloma Virus = HPV) is the most frequent cause of genital infection in women. There are many types of this virus that can infect the skin or mucous membranes and differ in their DNA content

Some types cause skin warts, others genital condylomas, and others more complex diseases.

Genital lesions can be diagnosed by Pap test, colposcopy, biopsy, or type-specific viral tests.

The lesions that can be documented by common clinical means do not, however, represent the entire tissue reservoir of the virus, which would be much larger, as they may involve tissues even where there is no discernible clinical manifestation.

Type-specific tests for HPV (ViraPap) have no practical clinical utility and should therefore not be recommended.

How is Papilloma Virus transmitted

It is mainly transmitted sexually and generally causes no complaints.

The symptoms experienced by patients are almost always due to other overlapping infections (mycosis, trichomonas, vaginosis, etc.).

The papillomavirus can affect both women and men at any age, who in most cases are unaware that they are carriers.

It is often difficult to determine from whom one contracted the infection: the papillomavirus can be transmitted by one’s current partner or have been transmitted by previous partners.

The incubation period can range from a few weeks to a few years. Transmission also occurs through anal intercourse and more rarely through oral sex.

Papilloma virus is treatable but not curable

The new HPV vaccine represents a great opportunity in the fight against cervical cancer, as it can protect against cancer and the precancerous lesions that precede it.

It is important to remember that the vaccine complements periodic screening, which is recommended for women between the ages of 25 and 64, but does not replace it: the current vaccine is active against 70% of the viruses associated with cervical cancer, but for the remaining 30% the only prevention remains the pap-test.

The National Health System offers the vaccine free of charge to 12-year-olds, who are considered ideal representatives of the barrier before the onset of first sexual intercourse.

This is considered to be the most opportune time to perform the vaccine and obtain the maximum result in terms of efficacy.

It is not always useful to destroy lesions caused by this virus, especially if they are flat and not associated with cell alterations.

The efficacy of drugs such as interferon is also not universally accepted.

Other antiviral drugs have not always proved effective.

New drugs (imiquimod) and homeopathic drugs (transfactor 11) are being tested and are not suitable in all cases.

Destruction with a scalpel, with low temperatures (cryotherapy), with electricity (diathermocoagulation) or with laser therapy of condylomata can apparently solve the problem, removing the clinical manifestations of the disease.

However, biopsy often reveals a persistence of the infection, even if the growths are no longer evident.

There is also the possibility of spontaneous regression of some of these forms.

The healthy human body can reject an initial infection within a few months, without the need for destructive therapies.

Oncogenic viruses in fact only express their carcinogenic capacity when the balance of the host is disturbed.

This is why many cellular alterations caused by the papillomavirus disappear by themselves without the need for any treatment.

Other times, however, the altered cells worsen within a few years (exceptionally a few months). Rarely, the severity of the changes progresses to a carcinoma.

This is why HIGH GRADE lesions are removed with a scalpel, a laser, or a special ‘thermal loop’ (LEEP) that eliminates the ‘diseased part’ in a few minutes.

It is good to remember, however, that any type of papillomavirus lesion can either persist after treatment or recur over a variable period of time.

LOW GRADE lesions can safely be ‘monitored’ over time without having to destroy anything, but by periodically checking their status.

This makes it possible to avoid invasive treatment of such an important organ as the cervix, even for the purposes of pregnancy and childbirth.

However, if a treatment has to be carried out (e.g. with a thermal loop), this does not compromise a woman’s future fertility, nor does it affect childbirth.

But no treatment (including removal of the entire uterus) gives an absolute guarantee that the viral disease and thus also its possible malignant transformation will never recur.

It is therefore better – if and when possible – to avoid demolishing surgery and unnecessary ‘burns’, but to limit oneself to a careful and regular check-up (Pap test and colposcopy).

The emotional impact of a diagnosis of papillomavirus infection can be more damaging than the actual physical problems caused by the virus.

Normally, if Colposcopy is performed correctly and the biopsy is properly targeted, the vast majority of low-grade lesions remain so or have regressed over time without the need for any surgical treatment.

Whether or not a treatment decision is made, two concepts must be clear regarding the treatment of papilloma virus lesions:

  • the choice not to perform surgical treatment at a given time does not mean that this same treatment should not be recommended in the future;
  • any surgical treatment (from DTC to LASER to total hysterectomy) does not guarantee cure: the lesion may persist and especially recur.

How to Prevent Papilloma Virus

Apart from an undoubted genetic predisposition (which cannot be prevented), anything that suppresses the immune defences can lead to the appearance of a papillomavirus infection or to a worsening of the lesion grade:

  • stop smoking;
  • exercise,
  • avoid drugs and alcohol;
  • limit stress;
  • eating healthy;
  • having safe sex.

They certainly contribute to increasing one’s immune defences and can interfere to varying degrees with the evolution of the disease, as well as being valid for many other morbid conditions.

It is now proven that cigarette smoking, by interfering with the immune system, can allow the virus to establish an infection and maintain it. Smoking does not cause cervical cancer, but it can increase the risk of advancing papillomavirus-associated lesions (as it is responsible for damaging the cells and failing to eliminate them).

Smoking is full of many cancer-causing poisons: nicotine levels in cervical mucus are higher than those in blood.

Quitting smoking can help the body control a papillomavirus infection.

Drugs and alcohol can suppress the immune system.

A diet low in fat and rich in vitamins is certainly advisable, also for the prevention of many other diseases.

Stress can exhaust the immune system.

In today’s life this factor is difficult to control, but every effort should be made to try to limit it as much as possible.

The number of sexual partners one has had in one’s life and the number of partners one has had with one’s partner increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.

The condom does not protect 100%, but it does limit the possibility of exposure to infection (not only of the papillomavirus, but also of all sexually transmitted diseases, including of course the AIDS virus).

The virus is scarcely resistant outside the human body, so there is no need to take special measures for underwear, other than those of normal daily hygiene.

Fighting the virus at any cost is less effective than controlling its evolution: the safest way to prevent possible cancers associated with the presence of the papillomavirus in predisposed individuals is to perform regular Pap tests and colposcopy (with deadlines depending on the type of lesion diagnosed).

There are no particular risks for planning a pregnancy in women with this infection, if the above examinations are reassuring.

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