What Is Human
papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection that is passed between people through
skin-to-skin contact. There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, but most
emphasis is given to the 40 varieties that affect the genitals, mouth, or
throat, that are passed through sexual contact.
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common
sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women. It’s so common
that most sexually active people will get some variety of it at some point,
even if they have few sexual partners.
What Causes Human
get HPV through direct sexual contact or oral sex. Since HPV is a skin-to-skin
infection, intercourse isn’t required to contract the infection. In rare cases,
an infected mother can infect her baby during delivery.
Signs and Symptoms
of Human Papillomavirus Infection
the CDC, most HPV infections go away on
their own without any sign or symptom. This means that infected people may have
unknowingly passed HPV to sexual partners.
minority of cases, the virus doesn’t go away and can cause serious health
problems. These include genital warts and warts in the throat (known as
recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP). HPV can also cause cervical
cancer and other cancers of the genitals, head, neck, and throat.
The types of
HPV that cause warts are different from the types that cause cancer. As such,
having genital warts caused by HPV does not mean that you will develop cancer.
caused by HPV often don’t show symptoms until the cancer is in later stages of
growth. Regular screenings can help diagnose HPV-related health problems
earlier. This can improve outlook and increase chances of survival.
Testing for Human
The Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first DNA test for HPV in 2014. Updated guidelines recommend that women have their
first Pap test (Pap smear) at age 21 and then start getting the HPV test at the
same time they get a Pap test, beginning at age 30. Regular Pap tests help to
identify abnormal cells in women. These can signal cervical cancer or other
HPV-related problems. Women ages 30 to 65 should then be screened every five
years with Pap and HPV co-testing. If you are under the age of 30, your doctor
or gynecologist may also request an HPV test if your Pap smear results are
If you are
found to have one of the 15 strains of HPV that can lead to cancer, your doctor
may want to monitor you for cervical changes. You may need to get a Pap test
changes that lead to cancer often take 10 or more years to develop and HPV
infections often go away on their own in one or two years without causing
cancer. You may want to follow a course of watchful waiting instead of
undergoing treatment for the abnormal or precancerous cells resulting from an
infection. Your doctor may also want to do follow-up testing with colposcopy.
This procedure uses an instrument (colposcope) to examine the vagina and the
cervix more closely and look for abnormal areas.
important to note that the HPV test is only available for diagnosing HPV in
women. There is currently no FDA-approved test available for diagnosing HPV in
If you have
new warts or notice other changes after sexual activity, contact your doctor
for an assessment.
How Is Human
Papillomavirus Infection Treated?
cases of HPV go away on their own, there is no treatment for the infection
itself. Instead, your doctor will likely want to have you come in for repeat testing in six months or a year to see if the HPV
infection persists and if any cell changes have developed that need further
HPV-related health issues, like warts and cancer, treatment will be targeted to
the specific issue.
genital warts, contact your doctor. Note that getting rid of the physical warts
does not treat the virus itself.
Papillomavirus Infection Risk Factors
has had sexual intercourse is at risk for HPV infection. It’s impossible to
know who will develop health problems from HPV, but people with weakened immune
systems may be more at risk.
The easiest ways to prevent HPV are to use condoms and to limit sexual
partners. In addition, the CDC
recommends the HPV vaccine for boys and girls aged 11 or 12. Women and men can
get vaccinated until age 26. The vaccine is said to protect against the types
of HPV associated with cancer and also to prevent some types that cause warts.
To prevent health
problems associated with HPV, be sure to get regular health checkups,
screenings, and Pap smears.