What Is Human Papillomavirus Infection?
papillomavirus (HPV) is an 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 and that are passed
through sexual contact.
According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Infection (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 (CDC).
What Causes Human Papillomavirus Infection?
Most people 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
According to the
CDC, 90 percent of infections go away on their own without any sign of symptoms
or health problems (CDC). This means that infected people may
unknowingly pass HPV to sexual partners.
remaining 10 percent, 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.
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 Papillomavirus Infection
currently no simple test to determine whether a person has HPV. Regular Pap tests
(Pap smears) help to identify abnormal cells in women. These can signal
cervical cancer or other HPV related problems.
If you have new
warts appear, contact your doctor for an assessment.
How Is Human Papillomavirus Infection Treated?
Since HPV cannot
be diagnosed, there is no treatment for it. Most cases will go away on their own.
For HPV-related health issues, like warts and cancer, treatment will be
targeted to the specific issue.
To treat genital
warts, contact your doctor. Note that getting rid of the physical warts does
not treat the virus itself.
Human Papillomavirus Infection Risk Factors
Anyone who 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.
Preventing Human Papillomavirus Infection
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 can also prevent
some types that cause warts.
To prevent health problems associated with HPV, be sure to get regular
health checkups, screenings, and Pap smears.