HPV/Genital Warts: Prevention

Genital HPV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The only way to prevent contracting HPV is to avoid direct contact with the virus. The best method of prevention is to abstain from vaginal, oral or anal sex or to be in a monogamous relationship with a partner who is known to be uninfected with HPV.

The greatest obstacle in preventing HPV from spreading is the number of people who have the virus and do not know it.

Risk factors for HPV/Genital Warts

There are certain factors that can place you at higher risk for contracting genital HPV. They include:

  • Multiple sex partners. Having sex with more than one person increases your risk of developing genital HPV.
  • High-risk partners. Having sex with a person who has multiple sex partners or one who is infected with HPV puts you at higher risk of being infected.
  • Unprotected sex. Having sex without a condom increases your risk due to a greater degree of skin-to-skin contact.
  • Tobacco use. If you have been exposed to HPV and smoke, the risk of developing symptoms increases, as does the risk of precancerous and cancerous conditions.
  • Impaired immune system. If you have a weakened immune system, such as individuals with AIDS, you have an increased risk of contracting HPV. The weakened system makes it more difficult to fight infections.

Prevention of HPV/Genital Warts

Most people do not know they are infected with HPV, which makes prevention difficult. However, there are a number of ways to reduce your risk:

  • Avoid all sexual contact if you or your partner has visible warts in the genital area until the warts have been treated.
  • Remain in a long-term monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner. HPV is so common that having sex with only one lifetime partner does not guarantee prevention of HPV infection. Your partner may have dormant HPV that has never shown symptoms.
  • If you are not in a monogamous relationship, you should reduce the number of your sexual partners. Fewer partners mean less risk of coming into contact with the virus.
  • Use a latex condom during sex. Although condoms offer some protection, they are not 100 percent effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Genital warts can occur on the penis outside of the areas covered by the condom. With skin-to-skin contact, you are at risk for transmitting or contracting HPV.
  • Use a dental dam during oral sex. A dental dam is a piece of latex that is placed over the vagina or anal opening during oral sex. It can reduce the risk of infection by preventing contact with the virus.
  • Getting regular gynecological examinations, including Pap smears. While these tests will not prevent you from contracting the virus, they can detect abnormal cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer or other complications.

Spermicidal foams, creams and jellies have not been proven to protect against HPV and genital warts. In fact, they may cause tiny breaks in the skin that make it easier to contract an STD. Spermicides are not recommended for routine use.

HPV is common and manageable. There are steps you can take to reduce your risk or, if you have been diagnosed with HPV, to reduce your risk of passing the disease to others.

HPV/Genital Warts: Treatment Options

There is no cure for human papillomavirus (HPV) - once you have been infected with a form of the virus, it remains in your system. Most people who have been infected with an HPV do not require treatment, because the body does not develop problems from the virus. Less than one percent of patients with HPV infection develop problems, according to the National Women's Health Resource Center.

If the HPV is a type of the virus associated with genital warts, however, you can develop small cauliflower-like growths in the genital area. When these warts develop and become visible, you have several treatment options. Although treatment may provide relief from the current outbreak, it cannot rid your body of the virus. The HPV remains in your system and can cause further outbreaks throughout your life.

Treatment focuses on removing any unsightly warts and reducing bothersome symptoms. Some treatments are performed in your physician's office while others can be self-administered in your home.

At home you may treat the warts with topical creams or gels prescribed by your physician. These topical treatments include:

  • Antimitotic agents. Drugs that inhibit cell growth by stopping cell division. This gel or solution is applied directly to the wart and works by removing the external growth from the area.
  • Biological response modifiers. Cream used on external genital warts and perianal warts (warts in or around the anus). It stimulates the immune system to fight off the warts.

Medications may have to be applied to the genital area for several weeks until the warts are dissolved. Some creams cannot be used if you are pregnant. They can be absorbed by your skin and cause birth defects in your baby. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate cream for you.

It is important to note that over-the-counter medications used to treat common warts found on your hands or feet should not be used on genital warts. These products can cause damage to your genital skin and result in discomfort or pain.

Some procedures can be administered by your doctor in an office or clinic. These procedures are typically used for smaller warts, and you might need more than one visit to completely remove the warts. The methods include:

  • Cryotherapy. The genital wart is frozen with liquid nitrogen. Freezing causes a blister to form around the wart. The dead skin sloughs off in about a week. This method causes only minimal discomfort and must be performed by a physician.
  • Electrocautery. This involves burning off warts with an electrical current. The genital warts are burned with a low-voltage electrical probe. Electrocautery can be performed by your physician under local anesthesia.
  • Laser surgery. This uses an intense light to destroy the warts. Laser therapy may be used if you have larger genital warts, particularly those that have not responded to other treatments. It is performed under local anesthesia in your physician's office.
  • Chemicals and acids. There are several chemicals that can be applied to the surface of the warts by your physician. The chemical causes a blister to form, which lifts the wart off of the skin so your physician can remove it. You may experience some pain from the formation of the blister.
  • Surgery. For some warts, usually the larger growths, you may need surgery to remove them. Your physician will determine if this procedure is necessary for your condition.
  • Interferon. This is a type of human protein known to stimulate the immune system to fight viruses. It is injected directly into the genital wart, often to treat warts that have returned after removal by other methods. This type of treatment is used less frequently because of the method of administration and the need for frequent office visits. In addition, the drug is expensive and it does not reduce how often you will develop warts in the future.

Since HPV remains in your body, genital warts can reappear at any time. You are most likely to have recurrences during the first three months following treatment. However, genital warts can occur at any time throughout your life.

Despite this, HPV is a very manageable condition and the frequency of outbreaks generally diminishes over time. Women are advised to learn ways of reducing their risk of transmitting the virus to others.

Last updated 24 March 2012

http;//www.nmihi.com AIDSspace community

Copyright 1999 by njfamilyhivaids.org