Human Papillomavirus Overview
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) describes common viruses – usually sexually transmitted – that can affect the genitals and, sometimes, the mouth or throat. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV should not be confused with herpes or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, as it causes different symptoms and health problems. In fact, different versions of HPV can lead to different symptoms and health conditions.
Low-risk HPV can lead to genital warts, while higher-risk forms of the virus can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus in women. HPV can cause cancer of the penis and anus in men. In rare cases, a pregnant woman with HPV can pass the virus to her baby during delivery, in which case the child can develop Juvenile-Onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (JORRP).
Most people who contract HPV do not show symptoms or health problems. Often, the body’s immune system will clear out the virus naturally within two years. For higher-risk forms of HPV, such as those that can cause cancer, visible signs may not appear until the condition is in an advanced state and can only be diagnosed by health care professionals, such as your WellStar physician.
Symptoms of HPV can include:
- Genital warts, which usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps. They can be raised or flat, or shaped like cauliflower.
- Throat warts caused by recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.
- Abnormal cells in the cervix, genital organs or anus
These risk factors could increase the likelihood of infection:
- Unprotected sex
- Multiple sex partners
- In younger patients, failure to get HPV vaccinations
HPV is spread through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex and, sometimes, through oral sex. Even if an infected partner exhibits no signs or symptoms, HPV can be transmitted. The only 100 percent effective prevention method is sexual abstinence.