Human Papillomavirus (HPV) or Genital Warts
Genital HPV infection is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types.
More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted, and they can infect the genital area of men and women – including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own.
How Is It Spread?
The types of HPV that infect the genital area are spread primarily through genital contact. Most HPV infections have no signs or symptoms; therefore, most infected persons are unaware they are infected, yet they can transmit the virus to a sex partner.
Rarely, a pregnant woman can pass HPV to her baby during vaginal delivery. A baby that is exposed to HPV very rarely develops warts in the throat or voice box.
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- Genital warts are soft and usually flesh colored. They can be flat or raised.
- They appear alone or in clusters. They are usually painless, but can cause itching, pain, or bleeding.
- They can appear on the vulva, vagina, anus, cervix, penis, or scrotum.
- They appear one to eight months after infection.
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There is no "cure" for HPV infection, although in most women the infection goes away on its own. The treatments provided are directed to the changes in the skin or mucous membrane caused by HPV infection – such as warts and pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.
All types of HPV can cause mild Pap test abnormalities which do not have serious consequences. Approximately 10 of the 30 identified genital HPV types can lead, in rare cases, to development of cervical cancer.
Research has shown that for most women (90 percent), cervical HPV infection becomes undetectable within two years. Although only a small proportion of women have persistent infection, persistent infection with "high-risk" types of HPV is the main risk factor for cervical cancer.
A Pap test can detect pre-cancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix. Regular Pap testing and careful medical follow-up, with treatment if necessary, can help ensure that pre-cancerous changes in the cervix caused by HPV infection do not develop into life threatening cervical cancer. The Pap test used in U.S. cervical cancer screening programs is responsible for greatly reducing deaths from cervical cancer.
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The surest way to eliminate risk for genital HPV infection is to refrain from any genital contact with another individual.
For those who choose to be sexually active, a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is the strategy most likely to prevent future genital HPV infections. However, it is difficult to determine whether a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected.
HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered.
While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.
Recently, the drug company Merck has marketed an HPV vaccine for females. This vaccine protects against the four strains of HPV that are linked to 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts cases.
By reducing the likelihood of HPV infection, this vaccine also reduces the likelihood of cervical cancer. Experts from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) now recommend this vaccine for girls ages 11-12. It is also recommended for women up to age 26 who have not received or completed the vaccine series.
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Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
HPV, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Infectious Diseases.
STD Wizard: It takes 5 minutes to find out if you need to be tested for an STI such as hepatitis, HIV or Chlamydia.
For More Information:
See our Causes & Cures for Warts article.