Human Papillomavirus Infection

Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on August 26, 2013

What Is Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an infection that is passed between people through skin-to-skin contact. There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, but most emphasis is given to the 40 varieties that affect the genitals, mouth, or throat and that are passed through sexual contact.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women. It’s so common that most sexually active people will get some variety of it at some point, even if they have few sexual partners (CDC).

What Causes Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Most people get HPV through direct sexual contact or oral sex. Since HPV is a skin-to-skin infection, intercourse isn’t required to contract the infection. In rare cases, an infected mother can infect her baby during delivery.

Signs and Symptoms of Human Papillomavirus Infection

According to the CDC, 90 percent of infections go away on their own without any sign of symptoms or health problems (CDC). This means that infected people may unknowingly pass HPV to sexual partners.

For the remaining 10 percent, the virus doesn’t go away and can cause serious health problems. These include genital warts and warts in the throat (known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, or RRP). HPV can also cause cervical cancer and other cancers of the genitals, head, neck, and throat.

The types of HPV that cause warts are different from the types that cause cancer. As such, having genital warts caused by HPV does not mean that you will develop cancer.

Cancers caused by HPV often don’t show symptoms until the cancer is in later stages of growth. Regular screenings can help diagnose HPV-related health problems earlier. This can improve outlook and increase chances of survival.

Testing for Human Papillomavirus Infection

There is currently no simple test to determine whether a person has HPV. Regular Pap tests (Pap smears) help to identify abnormal cells in women. These can signal cervical cancer or other HPV related problems.

If you have new warts appear, contact your doctor for an assessment.

How Is Human Papillomavirus Infection Treated?

Since HPV cannot be diagnosed, there is no treatment for it. Most cases will go away on their own. For HPV-related health issues, like warts and cancer, treatment will be targeted to the specific issue.

To treat genital warts, contact your doctor. Note that getting rid of the physical warts does not treat the virus itself.

Human Papillomavirus Infection Risk Factors

Anyone who has had sexual intercourse is at risk for HPV infection. It’s impossible to know who will develop health problems from HPV, but people with weakened immune systems may be more at risk.

Preventing Human Papillomavirus Infection

The easiest ways to prevent HPV are to use condoms and to limit sexual partners. In addition, the CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for boys and girls aged 11 or 12. Women and men can get vaccinated until age 26. The vaccine is said to protect against the types of HPV associated with cancer and can also prevent some types that cause warts.

To prevent health problems associated with HPV, be sure to get regular health checkups, screenings, and Pap smears. 

Was this article helpful? Yes No

Thank you.

Your message has been sent.

We're sorry, an error occurred.

We are unable to collect your feedback at this time. However, your feedback is important to us. Please try again later.

Article Sources:

Recommended for You

Is Your Rash Caused by Hepatitis C?
Is Your Rash Caused by Hepatitis C?
Skin rashes may be a sign of hepatitis C. They can also be caused by hep c treatment and liver damage. Know what to look for and how this rash is treated.
health-slideshow/hepatitis-c-rash
health-slideshow/hepatitis-c-rash
Skin rashes may be a sign of hepatitis C. They can also be caused by hep c treatment and liver damage. Know what to look for and how this rash is treated.
The Famous Faces of Hepatitis C
The Famous Faces of Hepatitis C
As with any disease, even the rich and famous are vulnerable to hepatitis C. In recent years, some celebrities have gone public with their diagnosis.
Meningitis: Pictures of Rash and Other Symptoms
Meningitis: Pictures of Rash and Other Symptoms
Meningitis symptoms include fever, feeling of illness, and headache. There are also some very visible signs of meningitis, notably a distinctive skin rash.
Bacterial Meningitis in Pictures
Bacterial Meningitis in Pictures
Bacterial meningitis is the most common and most serious form of the disease. Learn about symptoms and see the effects the disease can have on your life.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement