HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
Medically reviewed by The Dermatologists and written by Dr. Alexander Börve
More than 3 million US cases per year
- Requires medical diagnosis
- Symptoms: No symptoms or lobed warts
- Color: Typically skin-colored or pink
- Location: Genital areas, hands, feet
- Treatment: Can’t be cured, but can be relieved by warts removal
- Preventable by vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common virus, with over a hundred different types. Some types of HPV may increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
HPV can cause sexually transmitted infections that is characterized by harmless warts in the genital area or around the anus. Most experience no physical discomfort from the warts. The infection may be transmitted through sexual intercourse even when there are no visible symptoms. It usually takes a few weeks from infection until the warts start to develop, but sometimes the virus can lie dormant in the body for months or even years. Warts, both genital warts and warts on the hands and feet, is contagious, but HPV can be spread even if there are no sign of warts.
Symptoms of Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Most people do not have any symptoms when infected with HPV, but sometimes it may form warts. These warts are often located on the hands or feet. They may look different, but usually they are lobed or round in shape, slightly elevated and skin-colored or pink. Warts often are found in groups. Warts may also appear in genital areas, and are known as genital warts. Women can get them in the vaginal and anal areas. Men often develop genital warts around the glans penis, inside the foreskin and around the anus. Both men and women may experience itching, burning or a small bleeding during intercourse. The type of HPV that causes cancer usually does not cause warts. Cell changes in the cervix, which causes cancer, is usually not visible and has no symptoms. It is only detectable by smear.
What can I do?
Condoms provide some protection against HPV, but condom does not provide full protection because the virus can appear in places other than where the cover is attached. However, it is better than not having any protection.
It is always advisable to have a full sexual health screen if any sexually transmitted infection is detected. STD clinics in hospitals will typically have a walk in clinic to make screening accessible and convenient.
In addition, there are currently two types of vaccine preventing against the two HPV types (16 and 18), which cause most cases of cervical cancer. One of the vaccines also protects against genital warts. You should also keep in mind that women who smoke have a greater risk of cell changes and cervical HPV infections. Both females and males can be immunized against HPV infection.
Should I seek medical care?
If you are disturbed by the warts on the hands or feet, you can contact your healthcare provider for advice or help. If you have symptoms of genital warts, you can seek care from a physician or get a referral to a gynecologist.
Treatment for Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Genital warts (condyloma) should be treated, especially in affected females (and female partners of affected males) and these individuals should ensure that they have regular smears to look for any signs of warty change on the cervix. The warts can be treated by topical creams that can be prescribed by a physician or STD clinic. Cryotherapy, electro-coagulation or surgical removal may be required.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Statistic. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stats.htm.
National Cancer Institute. Available at http://www.cancer.gov/.
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