Non-sexual transmission of HPV 101: What you need to know
There is a fair chance that many instruments used by physicians and nurses in your medical practice are reusable. Metal tools, such as vaginal speculums, are used on a patient and then undergo a thorough disinfection process, before being placed in new packaging. This process can be repeated multiple times throughout the day, contingent on how many patients visit your facility. While reusable tools are standard across the industry, growing evidence suggests that this method is ineffective in several crucial ways: It is expensive, inefficient, and most importantly, potentially hazardous to a patient’s health.
Why are reusable tools a health hazard? Research has recently indicated that the human papillomavirus can potentially be spread to patients via metal reusable tools, despite rigorous attempts at disinfection. As a health care professional patient safety is your utmost priority, and the notion that HPV can be spread in your office is surely concerning. Try not to worry, however. There is a simple solution. Check out the guide below on non-sexual HPV transmission and prevention below:
What is HPV?
The human papillomavirus is an incredibly common virus that can be found all over the world. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, HPV is primarily contracted through sexual activity and is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world today. Indeed, the source notes that a vast majority of sexually active adults will contract HPV at least once in their lifetime, and likely multiple times. The World Health Organization explained that HPV infection is so common because it can spread without penetrative intercourse – it can be passed on simply through skin-to-skin contact. For most people HPV is an asymptomatic condition that will go unnoticed, and in most cases the body will kill off the virus relatively quickly – in a matter of weeks.
So why the concern? Well, HPV is not a monolithic infection. The WHO elaborated that there are over 100 different strains of HPV. Some can lead to bothersome yet benign conditions such as genital warts, whereas other strains can be far more dangerous, heightening the risk of certain kinds of cancer.
“There are over 100 different strains of HPV.”
Cancer and HPV
Some types of HPV are dubbed “high-risk” by the medical community, because they can potentially lead to cancer, and cervical cancer in particular, the CDC reported. High risk strains – notably types 16 and 18 – can lead to the development of pre-cancerous and then potentially cancerous cells in the cervix. The source elaborated that a vast majority of cervical cancer cases – some 99 percent – are caused by HPV infection. HPV can also engender cancer in other genital areas, including the anus, vulva, penis and vagina, although such cancers tend to be rarer than other forms of the disease.
The risk of non-sexual cross-contamination
HPV-induced cervical cancer is a notable risk that shouldn’t be ignored. Despite being rare – most women with an HPV infection won’t develop the disease – precautions should always be taken, such as screening and vaccinations. Another effective method for curbing the spread of the disease is preventing cross-contamination from the medical instruments used in your practice, particularly vaginal speculums.
A 2014 study from researchers at Brigham Young University and Pennsylvania State University, published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, examined the impact of common hospital disinfectants on HPV type 16. As outlined above, this can cause cell abnormalities which can lead to cancers around the genitals – particularly in the cervix. Researchers found that HPV16 is in fact resistant to most kinds of chemical disinfectants. The strain showed notable resistance to the sterilization process used in hospitals and clinics to cleanse tools such as vaginal speculums. Study authors made two crucial conclusions: Firstly, that dangerous strains of HPV can be passed on to patients through reusable instruments, and secondly that more effective sterilization techniques need to be implemented in the future to curtail this potentially deadly problem.
Is single-use the solution?
Given the risk that reusable devices present in terms of the spread of HPV, one important and easy step that your medical practice or hospital department can take is to begin utilizing disposable tools, such as the range on offer from obp. In the fight against cervical cancer, the OfficeSPEC Disposable Vaginal Speculum from OBP Medical is particularly beneficial for ensuring that the risk of cross contamination is virtually non-existent.
This single-use product comes ready for use and has an LED light source, which is powered by an alkaline button battery. The device also comes in several sizes. Once your physicians and nurses use the product on a patient, they simply dispose of the product. Through employing a single-use product, your health care providers can virtually guarantee that cross-contamination with HPV infection will not occur, ensuring patient safety and slashing the risk of cervical and other genital cancers even further. Furthermore, the product is also incredibly efficient, as it removes disinfection times associated with reusable tools. OBP Medical is happy to send your practice a free sample speculum.
In summary, the risk of harmful strains such as HPV16 leading to cervical and other cancers is too high to ignore. Vaccinations and routine screening can be used as strategies for prevention and treatment as far as sexual transmission is concerned, while making the switch to single-use tools is invariably the best solution for preventing the non-sexual spread of the virus.