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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Human Papillomavirus is a DNA virus that belongs to Papillomavirus family. There are around 170 types of HPV that are known, among them 40 types of HPV causes sexually transmitted diseases.

Individuals, who are sexually active, will get exposed to this virus at some point in time during their lifetime. It causes warts on different body parts and also causes precancerous lesions on cervix, vagina, anal, penis, mouth and throat.

Human papillomavirus

Around 12% of women get affected with HPV at any given time, worldwide. It is estimated that 75-80% of the individuals in the US will experience HPV infection, at any point in time in life, as HPV is the common infectious virus in the US population.

What is Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection that commonly causes warts on different parts of the body and also causes cervical cancer. This infection is passed on through direct skin-to-skin contact among both the genders, i.e., men and women through sexual contact. HPV causes no symptoms and can resolve on its own.

What are the Causes of Human Papillomavirus Infection?

The causes of HPV infection are as follows:

HPV infection can spread due to direct skin-to-skin contact. The virus can enter the body through cuts, wounds, abrasions and tear in the skin.

HPV infection in the genital regions can be caused by vaginal and anal sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of infected genital parts. Some people also get oral and upper respiratory tract infections or warts through oral sex.

If warts are present during pregnancy, it may multiply, enlarge and cause bleeding and difficulty during childbirth. These genital warts can infect the baby also, leading to mouth and throat warts that can be removed by surgery.

Warts itself are so contagious that even on touching it may spread to others.

What are the Symptoms of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection?

The symptoms of HPV infection are as follows:

  • Warts associated with HPV infection can go on its own, but the HPV virus remains in the body and can spread infections to others during sexual intercourse.
  • Some warts cannot go on its own and cause serious health problems, which include genital warts, warts on throat and cancers of cervix, anus, penis, mouth and throat.
  • HPV strains causing warts are different from the HPV strains causing cancers.

Different warts symptoms:

  • Genital Warts: Flat lesions, small cauliflower-like bumps and stem-like protrusions. It appears on vagina, penis, anus, scrotum and cervix.
  • Common Warts: Rough, raised bumps, appears on hands, fingers and elbows.
  • Plantar Warts: Hard, grainy growth that appears on the heel.
  • Flat Warts: Flat-topped, slightly raised, darker than skin that appears on legs.

What are the Risk Factors of (HPV) Human Papillomavirus Infection?

The risk factors for HPV infection include:

  • The number of Sexual Partners: Having intercourse with multiple partners or with a person who has had multiple sexual partners increases the risk of HPV infection.
  • Age: Common warts occur mostly in children. Genital warts can occur in adults.
  • Weak Immune System: The people having weak immune system can contract HPV infections easily. An immune system can be weakened due to organ transplantation, certain immune-suppressing drugs and HIV/AIDS.
  • Damaged Skin: If the skin is damaged or has cuts and wounds, then it is more prone to HPV infection.
  • Personal Contact: Touching warts without any safety, using the same swimming pool, public showers etc., can increase the risk of HPV infection.

What are the Complications of Human Papillomavirus infection?

Some of the complications of HPV infection include:

  • Oral and Respiratory Lesions: Lesions on tonsils, soft palate and tongue
  • Cancers: Most commonly cervical cancer, and also genital, anal, mouth and upper respiratory tract cancers

How to Diagnose Human Papillomavirus Infection?

The diagnosis of HPV infection can be performed by looking at genital warts. If the warts are not visible, the following tests should be performed, which includes:

  • Acetic Acid Solution Test: This acidic solution is applied to the genital area that turns invisible warts into white colour, making it visible for the diagnosis.
  • Pap Smear Test: This test is conducted to check any abnormalities in the genital area that can lead to cancer. Using a long-handled tool, the cells are collected that are stained and observed under a microscope.
  • DNA Test: In this test, cells from the cervix are collected and checked for high-risk strains that are responsible for causing genital cancers. It is recommended for women above 30 years, as in young adults immune system is sufficient enough to kill the HPV strains that are causing cancers.

What is the Treatment of Human Papillomavirus infection?

The genital and other warts can heal on its own without any treatment. However, there is no cure for the virus.

Some of the medications that are recommended for reducing warts are:

  • Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid containing over-the-counter treatments, can remove warts slowly, layer by layer.
  • Imiquimod (Aldara): This cream will increase an immune system’s ability to fight with HPV virus.
  • Podofilox (Condylox): This topical treatment destroys genital wart tissue.
  • Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA): It is a treatment that burns off a wart on the soles, palms and genitals.

Surgical Procedures Include:

  • Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
  • Laser treatments
  • Electrocautery (burning with an electric current)
  • Excision (cutting of warts)

What are the methods of Prevention for Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Some of the preventive methods for HPV infection include:

  • Common Warts: These warts can be prevented by not touching, biting and scratching from nails.
  • Plantar Warts: By wearing shoes and sandals at public places, it can be prevented.
  • Genital Warts: It can be prevented by reducing the number of sexual partners and by using latex condoms.
  • HPV Vaccines: Vaccines can protect against HPV infections. Cervarix can protect against cervical cancer. Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are effective against genital warts.

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