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The ABC's of HPV

The papilloma-virus or HPV is one of the most widespread in the world. In Canada, it is estimated that 70% of the population will be infected at least once during their lifetime by this type of virus.

Transmission • Infection by HPV is responsible for sexually transmitted infections (STI), the most prevalent in Canada. The virus is transmitted during sexual intercourse, even without penetration. In fact, HPV can be transmitted by direct contact between skin or a mucous membrane of a person and the reproductive organs of another person infected by HPV (vagina, vulva, cervix of uterus, penis, scrotum, and anus).

Kissing or touching the reproductive organs of an infected partner can eventually lead to the transmission of HPV that could infect another part of the body (i.e.: mouth, tongue, throat, and larynx). Most people infected by HPV do not present any symptoms and can spread the virus without knowing.

Different types, different risks.

There are several types of HPV. Some of these can cause vulgar warts and plantar warts. However, more than 30 types cause anogenital infections. Among them, certain can cause precancerous lesions, uterine cervical cancer and other genital cancers, such as penis or anus cancer. They are called carcinogenic types. The most frequent in North America are types 16 and 18, which are the cause of 70% of uterine cervical cancer.

Other types of HPV can cause genital warts (or condylomas), such as types 6 and 11. They are responsible for more than 90% of general warts, but they rarely cause cancer. Genital warts can be unpleasant and have an awkward aspect which gives rise to discomfort; they are associated with a high frequency of depression and sexual dysfunction as well as disturbances in couple relationships.

Recovery

Most infected persons will recover from this infection. In others, especially when an HPV carcinogenic type such as types 16 and 18, the infection can persist, and slowly develop into precancerous lesions or cancerous stages if they are not screened and treated.

A sad reality

We estimate that around 300 women will contract uterine cervical cancer every year in Québec and 75 of them will die. Currently, the fight against uterine cervical cancer is founded on screening with a Pap test. In Québec, the screening participation rate of women is a little less than 70%, one of the lowest in Canada. More than 530,000 women, aged 18 years or more in Québec, say they have not had a Pap test during the last three years; of this number, 365,000 say they have never had one.

Source: Ministère de la Santé et des Service sociaux (MSSS)