All to Know About Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are different types of HPV, some can lead to genital warts while others can lead to cancer. Most sexually active men and women are being exposed to HPV at some point in their life.

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HPV can be spread through oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It is also possible for HPV to be transmitted during birth to an infant causing genital or respiratory system infections. HPV has no cure, but safe and effective vaccinations are recommended at the age of 11 to 12 years.

Causes of HPV

HPV is passed skin-to-skin through sexual contact. While most HPV infections are nonthreatening, there are certain strains that exposes a person to higher risk of developing certain types of cancers. Most people with HPV are unaware they have the infection because it can be asymptomatic (show no symptoms)

Most HPV infections resolve themselves, though they can remain inactive or dormant and later infect a new or existing sexual partner. HPV can be transmitted to the infant during birth; this can cause a genital or respiratory system infection. The strains of HPV that cause warts are different from the strains that cause cancer.

Risk factors

Some factors increase the risk of contracting the HPV virus. These include:

  • Having too many sexual partners
  • Having sex with someone who has had several intimate partners
  • having a weakened immune system
  • Having areas of damaged skin.
  • having personal contact with warts or surfaces where HPV exposure has occurred


HPV can be diagnosed by examining warts or lesions that are present. However, additional tests may be required to confirm diagnosis.


There are diverse types of HPV, and they all have different symptoms. HPV viruses can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer. There is no treatment for the virus, but the symptoms can be treated. HPV can be prevented through vaccination.

Genital Warts

HPV warts will often resolve without treatment. However, there are drugs that can be applied to the skin to get rid of the wart. These include over-the-counter (OTC) salicylic acid for common warts.

Prescription medications include:

  • Podophyllin (chemical applied by a doctor)
  • Imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara)
  • Podofilox (Condylox)
  • Trichloroacetic acid (chemical applied by a doctor)

In some complex situations, surgical interventions may be needed to get rid of warts. These include:

  • Cryotherapy:This has to do with using liquid nitrogen to freeze the abnormal areas.
  • Electrocautery:Electrical current is used to burn the abnormal areas.
  • Laser therapy:This involves using light beam to remove unwanted tissue.
  • Interferon injection:This method is costly and has side effects, so it is rarely used.

Though warts can be removed or can resolve on its own, the virus can still remain in the body and can be passed to others. There is no treatment to remove the virus from the body.


Routine Pap tests and other types of screening can provide an early diagnosis, if cancer develops. Measures can be taken to treat any cancer and prevent it from reoccurring.

Testing for HPV

Tests to check for HPV or HPV-related cervical cellular changes include:

  • Pap smear
  • DNA test
  • Use of acetic acid (vinegar)

A Pap smear collects cells from the surface of the cervix or the vagina and will reveal any cellular anomalies that may lead to cancer.

DNA test will check for the high-risk types of HPV and is recommended for women 30 and older in conjunction with a Pap smear.

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There is also a DNA test for HPV, which can be used alone without the need for concurrent Pap testing beginning at age 25.

There is currently no test available for men to check for HPV. Diagnosis is made mainly on visual inspection. Men or women who have had a history of receptive anal sex may want to speak with a doctor regarding the possibility of undergoing an anal Pap smear.

Preventing HPV

Measures that can reduce the risk of contracting HPV include:

  • practicing safe sex
  • keeping monogamous sexual relationship
  • having the HPV vaccine
  • practicing abstinence
  • Avoiding sex with visible genital warts


Vaccination is recommended at the age of 11 to 12 years, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is to reduce the risk of cervical and other cancers developing in future. The vaccine is given in two doses, 6 to 12 months apart.

There are also vaccines that are recommended for males up to the age of 21 years and females up to 26 years who did not receive the vaccination at a younger age.

Image source: getty

Disclaimer: The content provided on is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.

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