How dangerous is HPV?


How dangerous is HPV?

Most people who are sexually active will eventually become infected with HPV. When can the infection become dangerous? And does vaccination also make sense in adulthood? The most important questions & answers.

Some of you may know that HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer. Some will also know that vaccination makes sense, especially at a young age. But what exactly is behind it? Does it still make sense to get vaccinated when you’re already an adult and have had sexual contact? Gynecologist Univ. Dr. Catherine Schuchter answered:

What exactly is HPV and what does the abbreviation stand for?

Katharina: The abbreviation stands for human papillomaviruses, of which there are many different virus strains, a total of around 200. Of these, around 40 are relevant to gynaecology. A distinction is made here between high-risk and low-risk strains. High-risk strains are those strains that can cause secondary diseases such as cervical cancer. It is now known that HPV viruses are the main factor in the development of cervical cancer.

How do you come into contact with HPV?

HPV is sexually transmitted. The higher the promiscuity (that is, the more sexually active a person is), the higher the risk of contracting the virus. It can be transmitted to the skin through sexual practices if you are unlucky, but also through objects. Transmission from mother to child in pregnant women is also possible.

How do you recognize an HPV infection? Can you even recognize them yourself?

Unfortunately, no. You don’t notice that at all. The infection can only be removed during a gynecological examination. Just as you go for a Pap smear*, you can also get tested for HPV, but this is not covered by health insurance. However, most gynecologists now offer this.

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In some countries, only the HPV smear is now done because it is believed that a PAP smear is no longer necessary if the HPV smear is negative.

*The Pap smear is a reliable test for diagnosing cancer of the female genital organs

How much does an HPV smear cost us?

About 80 euros.

An infection with HPV is not that rare, is it?

No, on the contrary. Many do not know that this is a fairly common infection. Approximately 80% of women become infected with HPV at least once in their lives. However, HPV infection has a very high self-healing tendency. The younger you are, the better your immune system is. For this reason, young girls only get two shots, while older girls get three.

The federal states have vaccination campaigns for young girls (usually between the ages of 11 and 12) with which they can get the vaccinations free of charge.

For whom is the HPV vaccination useful? What if you didn’t get vaccinated when you were a child?

Ideally, vaccination should take place before the first sexual intercourse. Vaccination also makes sense for older people who have already had sexual contact. HPV vaccination is now even recommended if there are already cell changes, i.e. if there were abnormalities in the smear test, since the vaccination stimulates the immune system.

Of course, it also depends on how sexually active a woman is. If a woman only has one sexual partner, for example if she is married, it is of course a little less relevant to get vaccinated than if you have frequently changing sexual partners.

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And what about men and boys? Should they get vaccinated too?

Yes, of course that would be ideal.

There are hardly any calls to that effect…

That’s right. But that would definitely make sense!

How much does the HPV vaccination for adults cost in this country?

The costs are 200 euros per vaccination, so a total of 600 euros.

What is the risk of developing cancer after HPV infection?

Of the 80 percent who become infected, 90 percent heal on their own. Of the 10 percent who are left, who have a ‘persistent’ virus, about 2 percent will develop cervical carcinoma, ie cancer, over a period of about ten years.

However, the PAP smear gives us a good tool with which we can quickly identify cell changes. So if a woman goes to the gynecologist regularly, the whole thing can be discovered in good time, usually before the cancer has actually developed. As a gynecologist, I have observed that women who have not had a gynecological examination for a long time get this type of cancer in particular.

How often should women at least go for a gynecological examination?

Once a year. If there is a cell change , you are informed immediately , and then you take a closer look .

Apart from cervical cancer, are there other secondary diseases caused by infection with HPV viruses?

Condylomas, i.e. genital warts, are also a result of an HPV virus infection.

Are they dangerous or just ugly?

They can get very large or very extensive, but they are not dangerous.

Is there another way to protect against HPV? Some people might think “Well, I always use a condom anyway – that’ll be enough”. Does it really?

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Condoms are definitely good. However, there are also parts of the body that are not covered by the condom, so an HPV infection can still take place there.

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