Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Information

The HPV virus causes warts to grow.
The HPV virus causes warts to grow. Science Picture Co/Getty Images

Medical Specialties: Internal medicine, Obstetrics/gynecology

Clinical Definition

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a common infection caused by the papovaviridae family of viruses. There are many types of human papilloma viruses. More than 40 types of HPV are transmitted sexually and can affect the genitals.

Genital HPV is associated with certain types of malignancies, including cervical neoplasia, laryngeal and anogential carcinomas.

A preventative vaccine is available for individuals up to the age of 26.

In Our Own Words

Human papilloma viruses can affect different parts of the body. Genital HPV is the most widely known type of HPV and is also believed to be the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Males and females can become infected and not know it.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Some forms of genital HPV are associated with an increased risk of oral, anal and penile cancer as well. HPV vaccines are available for both genders at all age groups.

More Information About HPV

HPV is transmitted among people by means of intimate skin contact. This virus is most commonly transmitted by means of vaginal or anal sex. However, HPV may be transmitted by oral sex, too.

HPV is very common, and nearly all sexually active men and women are infected with this virus at some point in their lives.

Furthermore, you can develop symptoms of HPV (warts) several years after having sex with an infected person; thus, it's often impossible to figure out who gave you this infection.

Typically, genital warts take the form of little bumps located on the genitalia that are either solitary or in groups. However, sometimes these warts can get big and even take on a cauliflower appearance.

Many people are unhappy with the appearance of their genital warts and seek medical treatment for this condition. Treatment for genital warts can either be applied by the person with warts himself or a physician.

Here are some examples of self-applied treatment:

  • Imiquimod (Aldara), which is applied at bedtime for a short course;
  • sinecatechins 15% ointment, which is applied 3 times a day for a short course;
  • podofilox (Condylox), which is applied twice a day for a short course.

Here are some ways a physician may apply treat genital warts:

  • cryotherapy, or liquid nitrogen applied via a probe;
  • podophyllin resin applied weekly and allowed to dry;
  • trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and bichloracetic acid (BCA) applied weekly and allowed to dry;
  • surgical removal (excision).

Of note, physician-applied therapies don't "burn off" warts per se. Instead, these treatments trigger an inflammatory immune reaction which clears the warts over time. In other words, such treatments work by getting your body to fight and clear the warts.

HPV causes cervical cancer, and cervical cancer typically exhibits no symptoms until it's advanced and too severe to treat. Therefore, it's always good idea to receive recommended screening for cervical cancer (Pap smear) and HPV.

Sources:

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Human Papillomavirus: What you should know.” Accessed November 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Genital HPV Infection Fact Sheet.” Accessed November 2013.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts fact sheet.” Accessed November 2013.

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