What Is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), affecting 79 million people in the U.S., most in their late teens and early 20s. Less commonly, HPV can be transmitted non-sexually. Some types of HPV can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers.
What Are Symptoms of Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
Most of the time human papillomavirus (HPV) doesn’t cause any problems and the virus goes away on its own.
Symptoms can also develop years after having sex with an infected person, making it difficult to know when infection first occurred.
- Small bump or group of bumps in the genital area
- Can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower
- May be skin-colored or pink
- Itching, burning, or tenderness in the genital area (less common)
What Causes Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is caused by a virus and is most often spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. HPV can be transmitted even when an infected person shows no symptoms.
Less commonly, HPV can be transmitted non-sexually. Many instruments used by healthcare providers are reusable. Metal tools, such as vaginal speculums, are used on a patient and disinfected before being placed in new packaging and then reused. Some research has shown that HPV can potentially be spread to patients via metal reusable tools, despite disinfection.
How Is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Diagnosed?
Genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) can be diagnosed with a physical examination, however, there is no specific test to determine a person’s “HPV status.”
If genital warts are suspected but the diagnosis is uncertain, a biopsy of the lesion may be taken to confirm diagnosis.
There are HPV tests called Pap tests used for cervical cancer screening in women aged 30 years and older but these tests are not recommended for screening men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.
What Is the Treatment for Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
There is no treatment for human papillomavirus (HPV) itself but there are treatments for the health problems caused by HPV.
Treatment for genital warts includes:
- Creams or liquids applied to the wart
- Surgical treatment
- Removal of the wart (excision)
- Cryotherapy to freeze the wart
- Electrocautery which uses electrical energy to burn away warts
- Lasers to destroy warts
What Are Complications of Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
Complications of human papillomavirus (HPV) include cancers, such as:
How Do You Prevent Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?
To reduce the risk of getting human papillomavirus (HPV):
- Get the HPV vaccine
- Get screened for cervical cancer
- Women aged 21 to 65 years old should be screened routinely to help prevent cervical cancer
If you are sexually active:
- Use latex or vinyl condoms every time you have sex (lambskin will not prevent disease transmission).
- Be in a mutually monogamous relationship
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