HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection worldwide. Most HPV infections are harmless and will clear up without treatment, but some strains of the virus can lead to cervical cancer or genital warts, according to Thim Sok, clinical director at Marie Stopes Cambodia.
“HPV can affected people in any age, but infections occur through sexual activity. It is more easily transmitted than HIV, because it can be contracted not only through blood but also via skin-to-skin sexual contact [e.g., sexual intercourse],” Dr Sok said.
HPV infection can occur when the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, or anus comes into contact with an infected person’s genitals, mouth or throat, usually during sex. Condom use reduces the risk of infection, but is not as effective against HPV infection as it is against other STIs, the doctor said.
It can take 20 years or more for an HPV infection to develop into genital warts (in men) or cervical cancer (in women). That’s why parents are encouraged to bring their children in for vaccination against HPV infection, especially girls aged 9 or above.
For women, “If you test positive, we can use cryotherapy, which is a treatment that freezes and removes precancerous cells from the cervix. Treatment becomes more difficult once cancer develops. For men, only two strains of the virus, Type 6 and Type 11, can cause genital warts,” said Dr Sok.
“Most people with HPV have no symptoms and feel totally fine, so they usually don’t even know they’re infected. In Cambodia each year, we find around 800 women develop cervical cancer among 1,500-1,600 new HPV infections. However HPV infection affected both men and women, leads to cervical cancer, and all cervical cancer must be led from HPV. This data is just from among people who seek our services,” the doctor said.
Most people seeking assistance at Marie Stopes have HIV, HPV or some other sexually transmitted infection. The organisation informs all those who come through its doors that HPV is the most easily transmissible such infection, and is many times more infectious than HIV.
The doctor urged young people not to be in a hurry to become sexually active. However, those who do have a responsibility to educate themselves about safe sex in order to prevent infection. People who engage in sexual activity must be aware that there are many health risks associated with it, the doctor said.
Marie Stopes offers a number of vaccination services. Vaccines can offer lifelong protection against HPV infection to both men and women. The best age for a person to be vaccinated is between 9 and 13 years, before they become sexually active.