Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a very common infection among the general public. More than 100 different types of HPV exist and it is estimated that as much as 80% of the population is infected with a strain of HPV at some point in their life. About 30 different strains of HPV are considered to be sexually transmitted diseases(STDs) and are spread through sexual contact. Some of these strains cause genital warts.
Transmitted: HPV virus' that are STDs are spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex
Symptoms: Depending on what type of HPV strain you are infected with, you may or may not experience any HPV symptoms. Those infected with what is known as "low risk" HPV will likely just have one HPV symptom: genital warts. These can develop anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after exposure to the virus. Genital warts look like miniature cauliflower florets, which are usually flesh-colored, soft and moist. They can develop on the vulva, cervix and in or around the vagina. HPV in men who have a strain that causes genital warts may develop the warts on the scrotum or penis. Both sexes may also develop genital warts symptoms in or around the anus and occasionally on the thighs, buttocks or throat. However, it is possible to have an HPV infection without any genital warts symptoms.
Treatment: There is no cure for HPV as well as no HPV treatment. Many people who are infected with HPV likely do not realize it. However, often your body can fight off the virus on its own. It is thought that, once you are infected with one strain of HPV, your body becomes immune to it. It is entirely possible, though, to be infected with more than one strain. Those that develop genital warts will need or want genital warts treatment. This can be done through medication or by burning the warts off.
Complications: Generally, those infected with HPV, especially low-risk HPV, will experience no complications aside from the possibility of genital warts, which can recur. However, those infected with an HPV strain that is considered to be "high-risk" are at a significantly increased risk of developing cervical cancer or some other type of cancer including vulvar cancer, anal cancer, or cancer of the penis. High-risk strains of HPV are responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer.
Consequences in Infants: Women who have genital warts during pregnancy may notice that their warts grow quicker and larger during their pregnancy. Having an outbreak during your pregnancy, and especially when you deliver, can cause problems. It is possible to pass the warts on to your child during a vaginal birth, which then develops in the throat (known as laryngeal papillomatosis). This can be life threatening to your child.
Risk Factors: Women and men are equally at risk of catching HPV although men have a slightly lower chance of actually developing genital warts. Individuals in their early 20's tend to be the most at risk of contracting the virus. However, because HPV is so common, you do not need to have a lot of sexual partner's to come into contact with the virus.
Prevention: Completely abstaining from sex or being in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has tested free of the virus are the best ways to avoid genital warts. Using condoms consistently and properly every time you have sex may reduce your risk of contracting the virus but there is evidence to suggest that condoms are not very reliable at offering protection against the virus. Additionally, condoms cannot provide any protection if you come into direct contact with genital warts. If you or your partner are having an outbreak of genital warts, it is best to avoid all sexual contact until the warts have completely disappeared.
Research: Current research is focusing on developing two different types of HPV vaccines. The first vaccine would help protect against being infected as well as the associated development of warts. The second HPV vaccine aims to treat cervical cancer.