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HPV Infection

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HPV or human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of virus that infects the skin and mucus membranes of the body. This includes the mouth lining, throat, cervix as well as the anus. This highly contagious virus can spread by person-to-person contact through skin-to-skin contact. It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections that leadsto genital warts. There are over 100 strains of HPV virus of which at least 40 different strains lead to genital HPV.

Information Related to HPV

Human papillomavirus is a DNA virus that leads to infection of the skin or mucus membranes. In most cases, the virus does not lead to any physical symptoms. However, in a few cases, it leads to growth of warts or squamous cell papilloma and dangerous diseases such as the cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, and the anus.  

The HPV survives in the body’s epithelial cells, that are present on the surface of the skin. Most of the HPV strains leads to warts on the hands, feet as well as the face. Others lead to infections of the mucus membranes around the genital region as well as the anus. There are about 13 known strains of HPV that can lead to cancer and are categorized as the high risk type virus. 70% of the cervical cancers are caused by HPV types 16 and 18.

Symptoms of HPV Infection

Most people are never aware of the fact that they are infected with HPV. Thus, they spread the virus unknowingly to their sexual partners. In some people, HPV leads to certain noticeable signs and symptoms. These include:

  • Appearance of common warts on the hands, fingers and fingernails. They are rough, raised bumps that may be painful and easily bleed.
  • Appearance of flat warts that are slightly darker than the regular skin color. They are slightly raised warts that appear on the face, neck, wrists, elbows and knees. These warts are very common in children, adolescents and children.
  • Genital warts are flat, cauliflower-like bumps that appear on the vulva, cervix or near the vagina in women and the penis, scrotum and anus in men.

How Does HPV Infection Spread?

HPV usually spreads through the vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, it is not necessary for penetrative sex to occur for the virus to spread. It spreads through skin-to-skin contact. As the mouth is involved in oral sex, the virus is transferred into the throat leading to upper respiratory lesions.

It can also spread through hand contact with infected person and healthy person or from genital of infected person to him/herself. Sharing infected objects may lead to spread of HPV. Some types of genital HPV can be transferred from mother to child during birth.

Diagnosis of HPV Infection

Diagnosis of HPV infection is made by physical examination of the warts present. If the warts are not visible, then the doctor will conduct a few tests. These include:

  • Pap test to check the cells of the cervix or vagina for any abnormalities or cancer
  • Vinegar solution test where vinegar solution is poured on the HPV-infected genital to see if it turns white. This helps in identifying lesions that are not easily visible
  • A DNA test to check high-risk strains of HPV virus that can lead to cancers

Treatment for HPV Infection

There is no specific treatment for HPV infection. In most cases, the warts disappear on their own. If required, the warts can be removed with the help of medications that contain salicyclic acid, podofilox, trichloroacetic acid, etc. When this does not work, surgical procedures like cryotherapy, electrocautery, laser surgery, etc. are carried out.

Prevention of HPV Infection

HPV infection can be prevented by getting vaccinated with a vaccine called Gardasil. It protects one against HPV strains that cause genital warts as well as cervical cancer. Cervarix is another such vaccine that helps protect one against cervical cancer, but is not of any help when it comes to prevention of genital warts.

HPV infections in most cases resolve on their own. However, it could lead to oral and upper respiratory infections as well as cervical cancer. One should practice monogamy and avoid sex with unknown, multiple partners. People with weak immune system are also prone to HPV infection. Thus, make sure you visit a doctor and get your wart examined. This will help prevent many dangerous cancers and give you time to nip them in the bud.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015