Silent killer STI hits women

09th May 2017
HPV can cause serious health problems, including genital warts and certain cancers. Source:The Midweek Sun

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By Rachel Raditsebe -


There are growing concerns about the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus threatening women. The virus, which is still unknown to many, has become the most common sexually transmitted virus, putting many women at high risk of developing cervical cancer.


The deadly virus, which has no cure yet and is spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex, has become so common that nearly all sexually active women get it at some point in their lives.


“The HIV agenda has been pushed so much that we may have forgotten about other equally lethal sexually-transmitted viruses such as HPV,” said Public Health Specialist and Head of National NCD Programme at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Neo Tapela.


She said that due to the virus, cervical cancer is already among the most common cancers affecting women, causing almost all cases of the disease. According to the 2017 Human Papilloma Virus and Related Cancers, Fact Sheet, Botswana has a population of 773418 women aged 15 and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.


Current estimates indicate that at least 250 Batswana are diagnosed with the disease annually and 111 deaths reported. The figures could be higher on the ground. “While HPV infection is cleared away naturally by the immune system of some people, in others the virus persists and causes cervical cancer within a number of years if no early interventions are taken.


“In HIV positive women, it takes even less time for the virus to cause cervical cancer,” she explained. Consultant Obstetrician-Gynecologist Dr Matlhogonolo Malebane explains that HPV also causes non-cancerous, nipple-like bumps called warts on the skin in the genital area or in other parts of the body as well as ulcerations.


He says the ulcerations may make women more vulnerable to other STIs such as HIV. “Unlike other STIs, HPV infection causes havoc silently. It does not produce any symptoms until at advanced stages when it has caused cervical cancer. Men often carry the virus, and transmit it to women during sex. In men, the infection is linked to penile, anal and throat cancers, though cases are still rare in Botswana,” said Dr Malebane.


He advises women to seek regular cervical cancer screening to avoid falling victim to the deadly virus. The screening can be done using pap smear or Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA). The two methods check if the virus has caused any abnormal changes in the cervix associated with cervical cancer and early treatment given before it becomes full-blown cancer.


However, new technologies now allow women to know if they are HPV positive or not using HPV testing method, where high-risk strains of the virus are tested from cells swabbed from the vaginal and cervical area. This method is becoming the preferred one and has gained the backing of the World Health Organistion and some medical professional bodies in the globe. “Women who are found to be HPV negative have virtually no risk of developing cervical cancer from HPV and can relax for at least five years before another HPV test is needed again. However, those found HPV positive will need closer monitoring and treatment to ensure the virus infection does not evolve into full-blown cancer,” says Dr Malebane.


He also urges parents to vaccinate their girls between 9 and 13 years old before they become sexually active to protect them from the virus.




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