Common Signs and Symptoms of HPV
What are the symptoms of HPV?
HPV is usually asymptomatic. Symptoms can appear any time (up to several years) after initial infection, making it difficult to tell when the infection first happened. The only symptom of low-risk HPV is genital warts. High-risk HPV has no symptoms but is associated with several forms of cancer.
What is HPV?
HPV is the name for a group of over 200 related viruses known, collectively as human papillomavirus and individually by type numbers. HPV is named after the papillomas (warts) associated with the infection. Over 40 types of HPV are sexually transmitted and categorized into high and low risk groups infecting the genitals, anus and throat. The remaining HPV types cause common warts and are not transmitted sexually. This article pertains only to sexually transmitted HPV.
HPV is the most common STD with 80% of sexually active persons becoming infected at some time in their lives. Over 79 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV and 14 million new infections occur every year. 5% of all cancers in the world are caused by high-risk HPV.
Who is at risk of an HPV infection?
Every sexually active person is at risk of HPV and most sexually active people will be infected at least once. HPV is more common in persons who have many sexual partners or one partner who has had sex with many different people. It is possible and very common to get HPV the first time you have sex.
How is HPV transmitted?
HPV is transmitted by skin to skin sexual contact, including oral, anal and vaginal sex regardless of symptom presence. HPV can be transmitted for years after the initial infection through sexual contact with an infected person and is most often transmitted by persons without knowledge of their infection. It is possible to be infected with HPV while sharing sex toys.
What is the incubation period of HPV?
The incubation period for genital herpes varies, making it difficult to determine when the infection was acquired.
What are the long-term consequences of an untreated HPV infection?
HPV infections are typically resolved by the immune system within two years of infection. Low-risk infections cause genital warts which will either go away or grow and multiply without treatment.
Untreated high-risk HPV can cause abnormal and precancerous changes in infected cells, preventing them from self-regulating excessive growth. Of the high-risk HPV strains, types 16 and 18 are responsible for most HPV-related cancers. HPV is much more likely to cause cancer in women than in men, with most cases being cervical cancer. Without early treatment, cancers caused by HPV can be life threatening.
High-risk HPV causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer (70% of these are from types 16 and 18 alone), 95% of all anal cancer and 70% of all oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of the throat). HPV type 16 also causes the majority of vaginal and vulvar cancer along with 35% of penile cancer.
How does HPV impact pregnancy and expectant mothers?
HPV has not been associated with early delivery or any other pregnancy complications. In rare cases, HPV can be passed to a child but the risk is very low. Women should not receive HPV vaccinations while pregnant. Read more about STDs and pregnancy here.
How can I prevent an HPV infection?
The best way to prevent HPV infection is abstinence. If all doses are administered on time and before sexual activity begins, the HPV vaccine can prevent most but not all HPV infections. Correct condom use can also decrease the likelihood of transmission, but only if the infection is located in an area completely covered by the condom.
Who should test for HPV?
After the age of 30, women are at risk for precancerous changes caused by high-risk HPV infection and should be tested for HPV regularly. Testing is not recommended for women under 30 because most HPV infections resolve on their own and are unlikely to develop into cancer. No approved HPV test exists for men or for HPV testing in the throat.
How is an HPV test administered?
The HPV test for women over 30 is taken using a vaginal swab that is tested for HPV DNA.
Is HPV curable?
HPV is not curable but is typically resolved by the immune system within two years. Genital warts caused by HPV can be treated with prescription antibiotics to resolve symptoms although this will not actually remove the virus. Precancerous cell changes in the cervix can also be removed to prevent cancer development if they are noticed early.
Is a HPV reinfection possible?
It is possible to be reinfected with HPV if you have sexual contact with an infected person. It is also possible to be infected with several different types of HPV simultaneously.