12 Facts About Human Papillomavirus

Pornpak Khunatorn, iStock via Getty Images
Pornpak Khunatorn, iStock via Getty Images

Human papillomavirus may have been covered in your high school health class, but there are many things that set it apart from other sexually transmitted infections. The severity of symptoms varies greatly: Warts that appear anywhere on the body are a result of HPV, as are most cervical cancer cases. Most people who get HPV never realize they have it, and with millions contracting the virus each year, chances are you’ll catch it at some point in your life. From its many types to the best way to protect yourself from it, here’s what you should know about human papillomavirus

1. Human papillomavirus infects the skin.

One distinguishing trait of human papillomavirus—and papillomaviruses affecting all animals—is that it infects the skin. When the virus causes symptoms, it provokes some inflammation or change in the skin tissue. This change can include warts, benign tumors, and tumors that become cancerous. Because it lives in the skin and mucous membranes of the body, HPV is usually transmitted through sexual contact.

2. Human papillomavirus is known for causing cervical cancer.

Most cervical cancer cases can be traced back to HPV infections. Cancer that affects the cervix—the part of the female reproductive system connecting the uterus to the vagina—is a serious global health issue. It’s the second most common cancer in women in underdeveloped countries, with 311,000 people dying from it worldwide each year. Fortunately, cervical cancer also has one of the most effective screening tests ever developed [PDF]. A Pap smear is administered by collecting cells from the surface of the cervix and analyzing them for any changes that could indicate the development of cancer. With regular Pap smears, cervical cancer is easy to catch and prevent, but they aren't always affordable to people without health insurance. This may explain why 85 percent of cervical cancer deaths happen in low- and middle-income countries.

3. There are many types of human papillomavirus.

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus, and only 14 of them can cause cancer. Out of that number, an even smaller group is responsible for most cervical cancer diagnoses and precancerous cervical lesions. HPV types 16 and 18 are behind 70 percent of these cases. But just because a type doesn’t cause cancer doesn’t mean it can’t be a problem. HPV types 6 and 11 have been linked to non-cancerous genital warts and respiratory papillomatosis, a condition that causes potentially life-threatening tumors to grow in the airways between the nose, mouth, and lungs.

4. High-risk HPV has no visible symptoms.

Even if a case of human papillomavirus doesn’t show clear symptoms, it can still be dangerous. Unlike the HPV types that cause genital warts, high-risk HPV types don’t present any outward signs before cervical cancer develops. That’s why receiving regular Pap smears is important—even if you feel healthy.

5. Almost everyone gets infected with human papillomavirus.

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection on Earth. Fourteen percent of the U.S. population contracts it each year, and there are currently 80 million people in the country with one type of the virus.

6. Most people with HPV don’t know they have it.

Human papillomavirus may be pervasive, but it’s not regarded with the same level of severity as many other pandemic-causing viruses. That’s because most types of HPV are unrelated to cancer, and they may not even cause obvious symptoms. A huge majority—about 90 percent—of HPV infections go away on their own within two years.

7. It can take years for symptoms of human papillomavirus to appear.

Many people who contract HPV never show symptoms. In other cases, people are infected unknowingly for weeks to years before signs—such as bumps, warts, or lesions—start to emerge. This long, unpredictable period between exposure and the disease’s visibility can sometimes make it impossible to pinpoint exactly when a patient was infected.

8. Cancers caused by human papillomavirus affect men and women.

While cervical cancer is the best-known side effect of HPV infection, it’s not the only cancer caused by the disease. Human papillomavirus can cause cancerous tumors to grow on the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and oropharynx (the area at the back of the throat). Because many people only know HPV as the virus that causes cervical cancers, the threat it poses to men is often downplayed. Its link to various cancers shows that men should get the HPV vaccine not only to protect their female sex partners, but also to protect themselves.

9. HPV-related cancer can be prevented with a vaccine.

Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers you can vaccinate yourself against, thanks to a human papillomavirus vaccine introduced in 2006. Gardasil equips the body against cervical cancer-causing HPV types 16 and 18. It’s also effective at preventing HPV types 6 and 11, the types mostly likely to cause genital warts and respiratory papillomatosis; and types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which are linked to all the cancers HPV can cause. The vaccine comes in two or three shots administered over 6 months. Because it’s most effective at protecting people who are not yet sexually active, the best time for everyone to receive it is in late childhood or early adolescence.

10. The man who linked HPV to cervical cancer won the Nobel Prize.

Much of what we know about human papillomavirus today is thanks to Harald zur Hausen. In 1974, the German scientist and his colleagues discovered there were multiple types of human papillomavirus, and in 1979, he identified the HPV strain responsible for genital warts. His most influential work began in the 1980s, when he isolated HPVs 16 and 18—the two HPV types that cause most cervical cancers. In 2008, at age 72, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work connecting cervical cancer to human papillomavirus.

11. The word papilloma means "tumor."

Papillomavirus comes from the word papilloma, a noncancerous growth on the skin, like a benign tumor or a wart. The etymology of papilloma reveals that the term was originally more specific. In Latin, papilla means "nipple," and in Greek, omameans "tumor," with the words combining to indicate "a tumor resembling a nipple." Many mammals can catch papillomaviruses, which is why the phrase human papillomavirus is used to describe pathogens that infect our species.

12. People in past centuries have come up with creative explanations for warts caused by HPV.

All skin warts are caused by human papillomavirus. Humans have been experiencing this symptom of HPV for thousands of years, with written accounts of warts dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. The condition has also inspired notable folklore throughout history. To explain the cause of warts, people have blamed killing toads, touching livestock, washing hands in water in which eggs have been boiled, and masturbating. Historical folk remedies for warts include spitting on them first thing in the morning, as well as rubbing a slug on them and impaling it on a thorn for nine nights in a row.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

The World Health Organization Is Releasing a COVID-19 App to Combat Coronavirus Misinformation

WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
MangoStar_Studio/iStock via Getty Images

As is the case with most crises, the novel coronavirus has become a breeding ground for misinformation. Because the disease is so new, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it, but that hasn't stopped people from claiming to know how to treat, prevent, and detect COVID-19. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching an app dedicated to sharing what we know and don't know about the virus, 9to5Google reports.

Named WHO MyHealth, the new app is a collaboration between former Google and Microsoft employees, WHO advisors and ambassadors, and other tech and health experts. Users will be able to compare their symptoms with those linked to COVID-19 and receive public health updates specific to their location. As of now, there are plans to invite people who have been either been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 to share their phone's location history to give experts a better idea of how the virus spreads.

WHO MyHealth, which is currently being built as open source, is set to roll out for Android and iOS on Monday, March 30. If you have questions about COVID-19 you need answered immediately, you can also access accurate and up-to-date information through the WHO's chatbot.

Any information regarding novel coronavirus should be met with skepticism when it can't be traced back to organizations like the WHO or the CDC—especially when it comes to supposed cures. No specific medication has been proven to treat or prevent COVID-19, so you shouldn't take advice from anyone claiming otherwise.

[h/t 9to5Google]

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