Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Overview

There are more than 100 known strains of human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. Most of these strains are completely harmless. For instance, some strains of the disease cause plantar warts that commonly appear on the hands and feet and are easily treated. However, there are several strains of HPV that are more serious. Human papillomavirus can cause the sexually transmitted disease known as genital warts. Affecting a large number of young people, it is estimated that HPV has been contracted by 20 million people in the United States alone. Left untreated, human papillomavirus strains that cause genital warts can lead to complications such as cervical cancer in women, tongue and throat cancer in men and rectal cancer in both sexes. Several treatment options are currently available as is a vaccine that prevents the spread of several strains of sexually transmitted HPV.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most visible symptom of HPV infection is the presence of warts or small raised flesh or grey colored lumps on the skin. The texture, size and color of the warts may vary depending upon the strain of HPV. Common and plantar warts are painless, but can sometimes itch. Genital warts may cause itching and tenderness in the infected area. Visual confirmation is generally all that is needed to diagnose the virus. If genital warts are suspected, a papsmear is performed to check for abnormal cells and confirm HPV infection. DNA tests can also confirm the presence of high-risk types of the virus.

Causes

Genital warts and other forms of HPV are highly contagious. The transmission of human papillomavirus is most often caused through skin-to-skin contact. The virus then enters the body through an opening such as an abrasion in the skin or orifice and begins to replicate. In some cases, the body’s immune system can fight off the infection alone and warts will not develop. In other cases, the infection is more aggressive and the immune response is overwhelmed. Continue reading for Prevention information . . .

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