Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)/Genital Warts
What is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?
It’s a virus transmitted through skin contact with an infected person’s genitals or anus or through sexual fluids that carry the virus. However, HPV can live and be transmitted in open air and is not always sexually transmitted.
How do I know if I have HPV?
Genital HPV, of which there are at least 35 types, can be present in genital secretions or in the skin of the penis, vulva, vagina or anus. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts; others cause abnormal, pre-cancerous, or cancerous changes to the cells of a woman’s cervix.
Genital warts usually appear one to 20 months after exposure. A health care provider can usually diagnose genital warts by looking at the lesion. Tests can’t definitively rule out genital warts since the virus can infect the deep layers of skin anywhere on, in or around the genitals or anus.
The strains of HPV that cause abnormal changes to a woman’s cervical cells are most often detected by a Pap test. HPV is one of the most common causes of cervical cancer so it's extremely important for women over 18, or any woman who is sexually active, to have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams.
HPV infections without symptoms are common; if symptoms occur, they can include small, bumpy warts that lool like cauliflower. These are usually painless and appear on or around the genitals or anus. Sometimes warts feel like dry patches of skin.
Itching and burning around the lesions is rare.
Although HPV testing is available for women, there’s no dependable way to test for HPV in men. It’s sometimes impossible for a person who’s been infected with HPV or genital warts to know whether they’re infected or infectious.
How is HPV treated?
There’s no known cure for HPV or genital warts. It’s believed that, for many people with HPV, the immune system eventually manages to control or clear the infection.
People with HPV or genital warts need to talk with their partners and use condoms and dental dams to reduce the risk of transmission. Ask your provider about testing and treatment for your partner.
Genital warts can be very difficult to treat. Follow-up appointments are necessary to be certain that treatment is effective. However, even when warts are removed, the infected person may still be able to transmit genital warts to a partner.
Therapy may include topical treatment with chemicals, acids, freezing, or lasers. Laser vaporization or surgical excision may be more effective if topical treatments fail or if the infection is more extensive.
Abnormal Pap test results are treated in a variety of ways, including biopsies (removal of small amount of cervical tissue for review by a pathologist), colposcopy (looking at the cervical cells with a microscope), or conization (removal of a cone-shaped section of the cervix for review by a pathologist). Type-specific HPV testing is available to help determine cervical cancer risk. Talk with your provider for more information.