Sex and STDs – You can get vaccinated against human papillomavirus | Knowledge & Environment | DW

Genital warts look very unsightly, can be uncomfortable and cause pain during sex. Genital warts get their name from their shape, which usually tapers towards the top. Some are rather pinhead-sized, flat nodules and difficult to see at first. They are also known as genital warts. These skin growths in the intimate area are among the most common STDs, but sex is not the only route of infection.

The pathogens are often also transmitted via smear infection. “One can also become infected with human papillomaviruses (HPV for short), for example, in the sauna or with light physical contact,” explains Norbert Brockmeyer Center for Sexual Health and Medicine “WIR” in Bochum. “HPV is highly contagious, so highly contagious. There are over 200 different types.” The non-dangerous fall under the designation of low-risk types. These include HPV 6 and 11, among others. They are the main triggers for genital warts and appear most frequently on the genitals and anus, but are not considered to be cancer-causing.

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Some HPV infections are precancerous

Our body usually manages to deal with the infection without medication. However, this requires an intact immune system. Then our body recognizes the viruses and destroys them.

Anyone who fears that they have been infected should definitely go to the doctor and be examined. If high-risk HPV types are present, they can lead to precancerous lesions. Types 16 and 18 are particularly dangerous. “Tumors can initially look like warts and then develop further, or skin changes occur immediately,” says expert Brockmeyer. “They then look like a small eczema, are sometimes slightly reddened and flake a bit. But behind this there is already the beginning of cancer, i.e. a precancerous stage, for example in the cervix.”

With a smear, cell changes can be analyzed and assigned in a laboratory and the HP virus can be determined. Is it a low-risk type or a high-risk type? The doctor will first remove the changes. There are various methods for this: removal by laser or by a small, non-painful operation. But that alone is no guarantee that the skin or mucous membrane changes could really be removed once and for all. They can always grow back. This means that regular checks are extremely important.

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The risk of miscarriage increases

In Germany alone, around 4,600 women develop cervical cancer every year. Around a third of them die from this type of cancer. In Europe, cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in girls and women between the ages of 15 and 45. But other figures are also alarming: More than 50,000 operations are performed every year for precancerous cervical lesions. Women who have to undergo such a procedure have an increased risk of miscarriage in subsequent pregnancies.

Not only women are affected, men can also become infected with the HP virus and develop a corresponding clinical picture – for example on the penis. Warts or cancer can also develop on other sensitive parts of our body. This also includes the mouth and throat area. For example, oral sex can transmit the virus to the oral mucosa and cause tumors in the mouth.

Human papillomaviruses are highly infectious

Many HPV infections are asymptomatic. That makes them even more unpredictable. “Sometimes just touching the warts is enough to transmit the virus. Tiny flakes of skin can suffice.” If HP viruses get on injuries – no matter how small and inconspicuous they are – the virus can be passed on. As with all sexually transmitted infections (STIs), condoms can reduce the risk of infection. But they are not a guarantee either, because they do not shield all important skin areas in the genital area.

Vaccination against HPV is a success story

HP viruses are usually eliminated 90 percent by people with good immune systems. But like everyone sexually transmitted infections (STIs) The following applies: The earlier an infection is detected, the earlier and thus the better it can be treated.

The best prevention is the HPV vaccination. In Germany, the first two HPV vaccines were approved in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Gardasil and Cervarix both prevent infection with risk types HPV 16 and HPV 18, which can cause cancer. Another vaccine was approved in 2015.

the Standing Vaccination Committee STIKO has been recommending for years that girls between the ages of nine and 14 get vaccinated. Before the first sexual contact, the risk of infection by HP viruses is almost zero. The vaccination recommendation now also applies to boys, because they too can become infected and spread the virus. “With the vaccine, we achieve a protective effect of over 95 percent against tumors and tumor precursors. That’s why it’s so important to vaccinate as many people as possible,” appeals Brockmeyer. The possible side effects are a very minor evil compared to the success of the vaccinations. Any redness and swelling at the vaccination site will disappear after a few days.

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