Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Most people don’t know they have it until it becomes a sexual disease. Learn about what HPV is? And what you can do to protect yourself from the possible effects of HPV?

HPV infection

What is gential Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is a viral infection that’s passed between people through skin-to-skin contact. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

There are about 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas (private or sex parts) of men and women. Sexual contact is how these viruses spread. Normally, the body fights off HPV before it causes any health issues. But sometimes the body does not.

What health problems HPV can cause? And what are the symptoms?

HPV can cause health problems, such as:

Genital warts

HPV is usually harmless. But some types can cause genital warts. Sexual activity, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex, can spread genital warts. Warts may not appear for several weeks or months after infection.

The size and appearance of these warts can vary, and they may be:

  • flat or cauliflower-shaped
  • large or small
  • white, pink, red, purplish-brown, or skin tone

They can form on the following surfaces: vulva, cervix, penis or scrotum, anus groin region

Genital warts can also appear on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat of someone who has had oral sexual contact with someone infected with HPV.

These warts can cause itching, burning, and other discomforts. Genital warts in both men and women. Warts are not life-threatening, but they can be emotionally difficult to deal with.

Other kinds of warts

Common warts

Common warts are rough, raised bumps that typically appear on the hands and fingers.

Plantar warts

They are hard, grainy growths on the heels or balls of your feet. These warts could be bothersome.

Flat warts

Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on their faces, and men usually get them in their beards. Women are more likely to get them on their legs.

Cervical cancer in women

Most people infected with HPV do not develop cancer, but the infection can raise the risk, particularly in people with weakened immune systems. It occurs most often in women over age 30.

Long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer in its early stages usually has no symptoms.

The following are signs and symptoms of advanced cervical cancer:

  • Vaginal bleeding after a sexual encounter, between periods, or after menopause.
  • Vaginal discharge that is watery, bloody, and has a foul odor.
  • Pelvic pain or discomfort during intercourse.

Cervical cancer can be prevented with screening tests and the  HPV vaccine

Cervical cancer is highly treatable when detected early, and it is associated with long survival and high quality of life.

Other HPV-related cancers

Other cancers that are less common in men and women, such as anal cancer

The anal canal is a small tube at the end of your rectum that allows stool to exit your body. Anal cancer is a rare type of cancer that develops in the anal canal.


Anal cancer symptoms and signs include:

  • Bleeding from the anus or rectum
  • Pain in the anus area
  • Anal itching due to a mass or growth in the anal canal

It is important to know that

HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes).

Genital warts will not turn into cancer, even if they are not treated.

To cause cervical cancer, the cancer-causing HPV types must remain on the cervix for many years.

How do people get HPV?

You can contract HPV through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who carries the virus. It is most commonly transmitted through vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.

Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You can have HPV, even if years have passed since you were sexually active.

You CANNOT get HPV from:

  • Toilet seats
  • Kissing on the mouth, hugging, or holding hands
  • Being unclean (bad hygiene)
  • Sharing food or utensils
  •  Swimming in pools or hot tubs
  •  Family history (heredity)

Is HPV more common in women or in men?

HPV is just as common in men and women.

However, HPV is less likely to cause serious health problems in men. Most men who have HPV never experience symptoms or health problems as a result of it. There is no approved HPV test for men.

Treating HPV infections

There’s no treatment for HPV. Most HPV infections do not cause any problems and are cleared by your body within 2 years. If HPV causes problems such as genital warts or changes in cervix cells, treatment is required.

Treating genital warts

A doctor must prescribe treatment for genital warts. It all depends on how the warts look and where they are.

Among the treatments are:

Cream or liquid: you can usually apply this to warts yourself a few times a week for several weeks, but in some cases, you may need to go to a sexual health clinic where a doctor or nurse will apply it.

Surgery: To remove warts, a doctor or nurse may cut, burn, or use a laser. This may result in pain, irritation, or scarring.

Freezing: The warts are frozen by a doctor or nurse. The treatment may be repeated several times. This can be painful.

Treatment may take weeks or months to work, and warts may reappear.

Treating abnormal cell changes in the cervix

LLETZ: The most common treatment is large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ). It entails removing abnormal cells with a thin wire loop heated with an electric current.

Cone biopsy: It is a minor operation to cut out a cone-shaped piece of tissue containing the abnormal cells.

Cryotherapy: The abnormal cells are frozen and destroyed (this is only used to treat minor cell changes)

Laser treatment: A laser is used to locate and destroy abnormal cells on your cervix

Cold coagulation: A heat source is applied to the cervix in order to burn away the abnormal cells

How to avoid HPV

You can do several things to lower your chances of getting HPV.

Get vaccinated

HPV vaccination is both safe and effective. When given at the recommended ages, it can protect against HPV-related diseases (including cancer).

If you are sexually active

Use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. Be in a mutually monogamous relationship

Get tested for HPV

Cervical cancer screening tests are available for HPV. These tests are only recommended for screening women over the age of 30. HPV tests should not be used to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30, according to CDC

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Reference: Mayoclinic, CDC, NHS UK


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