Symptoms of HPV
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is an extremely common infection among the general population. The HPV virus is believed to affect an estimated 80% of the population. There are about 100 known strains of HPV; 30 of these are considered to be sexually transmitted diseases since the only way a person can be infected with one of these strains is through vaginal, anal or oral sex. While some sexually transmitted strains of HPV are the cause of genital warts, others are classified as "high-risk" and are thought to significantly increase a woman's risk of cervical cancer.
More often than not, people infected with HPV are not even aware of it. This is because the virus often does not cause any symptoms. Although HPV infects women and men equally, men are much more likely than women to be asymptomatic. However, even without any symptoms of HPV, you are still very contagious and can infect your partner.
Symptoms for Genital Warts
If you are infected with a strain of HPV that causes genital warts, you may develop symptoms of genital warts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after exposure. If you have an outbreak of warts, then you should see your doctor about genital warts treatment. In some cases, though, the virus may lay dormant in your system for a few years before you develop any genital warts symptoms.
Genital warts are often said to look like little cauliflower florets. They are usually white or flesh-colored, may either lay flat or be raised, appear by themselves or in clusters, and can be found in or around the vagina or anus or on the vulva or penis. Generally, the warts themselves are not painful but they can interfere with normal bodily functions, such as urinating and bowel movements, making these actions painful and uncomfortable.
Genital warts spread very easily and are very contagious. If you have an active outbreak of genital warts, it is best to refrain from all types of sexual contact until the warts have been treated.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer to affect women. Infection with HPV has been found to be the leading cause of cervical cancer. However, not all strains of the HPV virus are associated with cervical cancer. Those that lead to genital warts are rarely linked with this type of cancer.
Unfortunately, those strains that are known to cause cervical cancer often do not cause any symptoms. Although your immune system will try to fight the virus, and for many people this is sufficient to get rid of the virus without doing any harm, the longer the virus stays in your system, the greater your risk of developing cervical cancer is.
Although women over the age of 30 have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer, it is recommended that all women regularly receive a Pap smear every year once they become sexually active or by the time they are 18, whichever comes first. A Pap smear will help detect any abnormal cells in your cervix; the sooner these abnormalities are caught, the sooner you can take action and possibly prevent cervical cancer.
Some other signs to watch out for when it comes to cervical cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (particularly after sex)
- Pain in the lower back
- Pain while urinating
- Pain during sex
Although these symptoms are not exclusive to cervical cancer, they should be investigated by a health care professional if you experience them.
For more information about genital warts and HPV as well as wart removal, check out our STD forum.
Learn more about human papilloma virus (HPV) symptoms with facts and photos at STDs in Color.