Understanding Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In 2000, there were about 6.2 million new HPV cases among the population aged 15-44. During the period 2003-2004, 26.8% of American women aged 14-59 were infected with at least one HPV type, and 15.2% had contacted one or more of HPV types that are cancerous.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus is a type of papillomavirus that infects mucous membranes and the skin of humans. About 130 HPV types have already been identified and they are referred to by number. Of these, 13 types are sexually transmitted, which may lead to penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN), cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), and/or vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).

Symptoms of  HPV

Some types of HPV can cause noncancerous skin growths or warts and some can cause cancer, but other types have no symptoms.

One of the symptoms is a rapid growth of cells on the outer layer of the skin of an infected person. People infected with HPV can develop warts on the feet, knees, hands, and elbows. An infected person can also have plantar warts on the soles of the feet, periungual or subungual warts on the cuticle or under the fingernail, and flat warts often found on the face or forehead.

Genital or anal warts are the most easily recognized signs of genital HPV infection. There is also the recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a rare condition in which warts develop in the respiratory tract, most commonly in the larynx.

More than a dozen types of HPV types are "high-risk" because they can lead to cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, anal cancer, and penile cancer. Several HPV types have also been found to be linked with oropharyngeal squamous-cell cancer, a type of head and neck cancer.

How HPV is transmitted?

HPV is transmitted by direct contact. It can be transferred to or from the anus, genitals, throat, or mouth, during sexual intercourse. A person can spread HPV even if he or she does not have any visible warts or any symptoms of infection. While extremely rare, a newborn child can have the virus during vaginal delivery of an infected mother.

How to treat HPV?

The following are some of the treatments for genital warts: 20% podophyllin anti-mitotic solution, trichloroacetic acid (TCA), imiquimod cream, 5% 5-fluorouracil cream, and 0.5% podofilox solution. Warts can also be treated by burning (electrocautery), surgical removal, freezing (cryosurgery), laser treatment, and alpha interferon. Always consult with your doctor about your treatment plans.

How to prevent HPV?

The best way to prevent being infected by HPV is to have limited sexual partners while practicing safe sex. Condoms can reduce the risk of getting genital warts. Also, women should have their regular Pap smear to screen them for cervical cancer and other precancerous conditions.