HPV/Genital Warts: Overview

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection that causes abnormal growths of tissue on the body. It typically affects the skin and mucous membranes. There are many types of HPV, and the most common form causes genital warts. These are small, cauliflower-type bumps that grow on and around the genitals of both women and men. Not all HPV types cause genital warts.

There are approximately 100 types of viruses associated with HPV, but not all of these viruses cause genital warts. Approximately 30 HPVs are passed through sexual activity and can cause genital warts. Genital warts should not be confused with genital herpes, another sexually transmitted disease (STD). These STDs differ in the type of virus that can cause the condition. Genital warts are caused by an infection from a form of HPV virus, and genital herpes is caused by a form of herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Genital HPV is the most common STD in the United States. Approximately 6.2 million Americans develop a new genital HPV infection each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of these individuals are unaware they have contracted the infection. At least 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV. However, the virus causes no symptoms or problems in most of the cases.

HPV is more common in women than in men. Approximately 80 percent of all women develop genital HPV by the age of 50.

Whether you have been diagnosed with HPV or are interested in information about the condition, the following overview should help you better understand the disease.

Transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) most commonly causes warts or papillomas to grow on your skin. Some types of the virus will result in growths on your hands and feet. Other types of HPV cause genital warts, which can be single or multiple bumps that grow in the genital area, including the vagina, cervix, penis and rectum. The HPV that causes warts on the hands or soles of the feet is not the same virus that causes genital warts.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. It is highly contagious and is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. You can contract HPV through skin contact during vaginal, oral or anal sex, regardless of your sexual orientation. For example, the virus can be transmitted between women if the genital wart on one woman comes in contact with the genitals or lining of the mouth of her female partner.

Genital warts can appear within several weeks or months after the sexual relations. Not everyone who has been exposed to the virus will develop genital warts. It is estimated that two thirds of those who have sexual contact with an infected person will develop HPV.

HPV does not always cause visible growths on your skin. Just because you do not see warts on yourself or your partner does not mean HPV is not present. The warts can disappear while the virus remains active in your body and can be spread to others. If you have been diagnosed with genital warts, it is important to know that the virus can be transmitted even if you do not have symptoms.

In rare instances, a pregnant woman might transmit HPV to her baby. To reduce the risk, genital warts will be removed during the pregnancy by a physician. If they present a risk at the time of birth, a Caesarean section will be performed to deliver the baby.

Some research has suggested that HPV can be transmitted through items such as clothing or underwear. However, it has not yet been proven that you can contract the virus in this manner.

It is unknown at what point a person with HPV can transmit the virus or for how long it can be transmitted to other people. It is also unclear as to why some people develop genital warts following infection with HPV while others do not display any symptoms.

Risks associated with HPV/Genital Warts

There are two categories of genital HPV, each associated with a level of risk:

  • Low-risk genital HPV can cause genital warts but do not usually cause precancerous changes on the cervix. You might develop warts weeks, months or even years after sexual contact with a person infected with HPV.
  • High-risk HPV can cause genital warts but can also result in precancerous changes in a woman's cervix if left untreated. If you have high-risk HPV, it is not the same as having cervical cancer. In many cases, high-risk HPV causes no health problems and disappears on its own. High-risk types that persist, however, can place women at higher risk for cervical cancer and vulvar cancer. In men, some types of HPV can lead to anal cancer and, more rarely, cancer of the penis.

Most HPV infections do not fully progress to cancer. A Pap test can detect abnormal cervical cells in women. It is particularly important that you receive regular gynecological examinations and Pap smears if you have abnormal cervical cells.

Pregnancy & HPV/Genital Warts

Genital warts have the potential to cause complications during pregnancy. In some cases, warts may make it difficult for the woman to urinate. If they develop in the vagina, they may cause less elasticity and may obstruct the delivery.

In rare cases, if a baby is born to a woman infected with genital warts, the baby may develop warts in his or her throat. This condition is uncommon but does present a potentially life-threatening condition for the baby. The condition requires frequent laser surgery to prevent the airway from becoming blocked.

While it is important to be aware of the risk, women with HPV should remember that it is a common and manageable condition.

Treatment focuses on reducing symptoms, lessening the frequency of outbreaks and preventing the transmission of the virus to others.

Last updated 24 March 2012

http;//www.nmihi.com AIDSspace community

Copyright 1999 by njfamilyhivaids.org