May 31 2008

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Published by admin

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses that include more than one hundred different types of viruses. About thirty of these types have the potential to cause genital warts on or near the penis in men, vulva (outer female genital area), vagina, and cervix in women, or the anus and rectum in both genders. Those types of HPV are considered to be sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Other types of HPV can cause plantar warts on feet, common warts on hands, or warts or lesions in the mouth or upper respiratory system. The viruses live in the skin and mucous membranes (the moist layer of tissue lining the respiratory, digestive, urinary, and reproductive tracts). There is no cure for HPVs.

    All of these types of the virus are spread by skin to skin contact, however, the virus can not be spread from one area of the body to another. Meaning, the HPVs that infects the hands can not be spread to the feet or genital areas. Some of the HPVs are considered to be high risk. These viruses can cause changes in cells that lead to cancer of the penis in men, vagina and cervix in women, or the anus in both genders.


    The types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that infect the genitals are very common in the United States. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), there are an estimated 20 million Americans with a genital infection of HPV and every year about 5.5 million Americans acquire a genital infection of HPV. (source)
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    The human papillomavirus (HPV) is transmitted through direct skin to skin contact. It can be nonsexual or sexual contact. For transmission to occur, the skin to skin contact must take place with an infected area.

    The sexual contact can include vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also include oral to vulva (outer female genital area), vulva to vulva, or oral to anus (rimming) contact. Rarely an infected woman will transmit HPV to her baby during birth.
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    Many people infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) will not have any symptoms or symptoms may not be noticeable. Symptoms will also differ, depending on the type of HPV. It is important to note, even if there are no noticeable symptoms, HPV can still be transmitted.

    People infected with the type of HPV that infects the genitals may experience genital warts. Genital warts can be pink or flesh colored, raised or flat, small or large, look like a tiny cauliflower like bump, or look like a tiny stem like protrusion. They usually appear on or near the penis in men, vulva (outer female genital area), vagina, and cervix in women, or the anus and rectum in both genders. Rarely, they will cause pain or discomfort.

    When HPV infects the hands, symptoms can be experienced as common warts that are rough raised bumps. They usually appear on the hands, fingers, or around finger nails, and can be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding. Most people are infected by the virus when they are children or adolescents and some get common warts, but most people will not get common warts after the age of 20.

    HPV infection of the feet can be experienced as plantar warts that are grainy and hard. They usually appear on the heel or ball of the feet and may cause pain or discomfort. While transmission of the virus often occurs in childhood, plantar warts more commonly appear in adulthood.

    Another type of wart caused by HPV is flat warts. Flat warts are slightly raised, darker than skin color, and flat topped. They usually appear on the elbows, knees, hands, wrists, neck and face. More often they affect children, adolescents, and young adults.

    HPV can also infect the mouth and upper respiratory system. These infections can be experienced as warts in the nose or on the tongue, tonsils, soft palate, or larynx.

    These different types of warts can form years after HPV is transmitted. Some people may experience one outbreak that goes away on its own, while other people can have reoccurring outbreaks or longer lasting outbreaks.
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    Testing / Diagnosis

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection of the genitals can be diagnosed by visually inspecting for warts. Some warts may be hard to see, so a health care provider may apply a vinegar solution to the genital area being inspected, because it can turn warts white and make them easier to see. A magnifying lens can also be used to help the inspection. HPV infections of other parts of the body like the hands and feet can also be diagnosed by a visually inspection.

    A Pap test of the cervix can show if there are any abnormal cells present. If the test shows there are, a health care provider may order a test to determine if there are any high risk HPVs present.
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    There is no cure for the human papillomavirus (HPV), but the warts caused by it will eventually go away on their own. However, a health care provider can remove the warts to help reduce the risk of the virus being spread and for reasons of appearance.

    Removal can be by cryotherapy (freezing the bumps), chemical compounds TCA (trichloracetic acid) or podophyllin being applied to the surface of the wart, lasers, cutting off the wart, or electrocautery (burning warts off with electricity). These methods could be painful and should only be done by a health care provider. Iimiquimod cream (Aldara®) and podofilox cream or gel (Condylox®) can also be used to help remove the warts.
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    The human papillomavirus (HPV) types that are considered high risk can cause cells to become abnormal in the cervix, anus, or penis and lead to cancer. While it is rare for HPV to develop into cervical cancer, most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the virus. Penile and anal cases of cancer caused by HPV are extremely rare.
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    The surest way to avoid the transmission of the human papillomavirus (HPV) from sexual contact is to abstain from sexual contact. A mutual monogamous relationship with a trusted partner known to be uninfected is another way.

    Using a latex condom during vaginal and anal sex can reduce the risk of transmission. Correctly using a condom can also reduce the risk of transmission during oral sex (mouth to penis). For other forms of oral sex (mouth to vulva, the outer female genital area, or oral to anal, also known as rimming) using a dental dam, plastic wrap, or a latex condom cut up and opened flat are risk reducers. However, HPV can infect areas the condom or barrier method do not cover, so transmission is still possible during these types of sexual contact.

    A vaccine is available for women to protect them from the high risk types of HPV. To have the most benefit from the vaccine, it is recommended women have it before they become sexually active. Sexually active women can still benefit from it. Currently it is not recommended for men to have the vaccine.

    To help reduce the risk of getting plantar warts, keep feet clean and dry, wear clean socks, and wear sandals or shoes in public looker rooms and around public pools. To help reduce the spread of common warts (or any type) to others or reduce the chances of new warts developing, do not pick at them.
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