Like many sexually transmitted organisms, HPV usually causes a quiet infection — that is, one that does not have visible symptoms.
One study, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), reported that almost half of the women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. Because the viral infection persists, individuals may not be aware of their infection or the potential risk of transmission to others and of developing complications.
HPV, which stands for Human papillomavirus is the most prominent STD in the United States with 6.2 million Americans becoming infected every year. In 2006 a major breakthrough was announced via a new HPV vaccine for young women that may prevent several types of HPV.
Some of these viruses are called “high-risk” types, and may cause abnormal Pap tests. They may also lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Others are called “low-risk” types, and they may cause mild Pap test abnormalities or genital warts. Genital warts are single or multiple growths or bumps that appear in the genital area, and sometimes are cauliflower shaped.
Genital warts usually appear as soft, moist, pink, or flesh-colored swellings, usually in the genital area. They can be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, and sometimes cauliflower shaped. They can appear on the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, on the cervix, and on the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh. After sexual contact with an infected person, warts can appear within weeks or months, or they never appear.
Genital warts are diagnosed by visual inspection. Visible genital warts can be removed by medications the patient applies, or by treatments performed by a health care provider. Some individuals choose to forego treatment to see if the warts will disappear on their own. No treatment for visible genital warts is better than another, and no single treatment is ideal for all cases.
There are no HPV tests are available for men.
A Pap test can detect pre-cancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix. Regular Pap testing and careful medical follow-up, with treatment if necessary, can help ensure that pre-cancerous changes in the cervix caused by HPV infection do not develop into life threatening cervical cancer. The Pap test used in U.S. cervical cancer screening programs is responsible for greatly reducing deaths from cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that each year in the United States, about 12,000 women develop invasive cervical cancer and about 4,000 women die from this disease. Most women who develop invasive cervical cancer have not had regular cervical cancer screening.
HPV infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer, an HPV-associated disease.
The use of condoms should not be a substitute for routine screening with Pap tests to detect and prevent cervical cancer. Sexually active women should have a regular Pap test to screen for cervical cancer and other pre-cancerous changes.
Myers ER, McCrory DC, Nanda K, Bastian L, Matchar DB. Mathematical model for the natural history of human papillomavirus infection and cervical carcinogenesis. American Journal of Epidemiology 2000; 151(12):1158-1171.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines 2002. MMWR 2002;51(no. RR-6).
Ho, G.Y.F., Bierman, R., Beardsley, L., Chang, C.J., Burk, R.D.: Natural history of cervicovaginal papilloma virus infection in young women. N Engl J Med 1998;338:423-8.
Koutsky, L.A., Kiviat, N.B. Genital human papillomavirus. In: K. Holmes, P. Mardh, P. Sparling et al (eds). Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999, p. 347-359.
Kiviat, N.B., Koutsky, L.A., Paavonen, J. Cervical neoplasia and other STD-related genital tract neoplasias. In: K. Holmes, P. Mardh, P. Sparling et al (eds). Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999, p. 811-831.
Watts, D.H., Brunham, R.C. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection in pregnancy. In: K. Holmes, P. Mardh, P. Sparling et al (eds). Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999, 1089-1132.
If you think you may have a sexually
transmitted disease, you should see a physician immediately
to be properly diagnosed and treated. You should
not try to diagnose or treat symptoms on your own.
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