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HPV Infection


Disease: HPV Infection HPV Infection
Category: Infectious diseases
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Disease Definition:

One of a group of more than 100 related human papillomaviruses (HPVs) cause HPV infection. On a particular part of the body, each type of HPV has the potential to cause an abnormal growth such as plantar warts on the feet, genital warts and other lesions on or near the genitals or anus, warts and other lesions in the mouth and upper respiratory system and common warts of the hands.

HPV infections are quite common. Although most HPV infections don't lead to cancer, some types might cause cancer, such as cervical cancer.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


When HPV infections don't cause warts or other lesions, they could go undetected. However, even if a person doesn't experience any signs or symptoms, they may develop them later, and the virus could be transmitted to other people.  

Based on the specific type of HPV infection that someone has, the signs and symptoms could vary. Some of those may include:

Pre-malignant genital lesions:
Cellular changes could be caused by certain HPV infections resulting in precancerous lesions. Usually, a Pap test, which is a simple procedure to collect cells from the cervix or vagina for laboratory examination, could detect most of these abnormalities.
Usually, without treatment, the "low grade" abnormalities resolve and the cells return to normal. Common causes of these low-grade abnormalities are type 6 and 11 HPV infections.
In case those abnormalities are high-grade, they are less likely to resolve, and some of them may even advance to cancer of the vulva, cervix or vagina. The most common causes of high-grade abnormalities are type 16 and 18 HPV infections.

Genital warts:
Genital warts could appear as a flat lesion, a tiny stem-like protrusion or a tiny cauliflower-like bump. They are not malignant. Most genital warts are caused by type 6 and 11 HPV infections. Usually, these types of HPV are not associated with cancer.
Although these warts could occur in women near the anus, in the vagina or on the cervix, however, they usually appear on the vulva. Warts may appear in men on the penis and scrotum or around the anus. Discomfort or pain could be caused by genital warts only in some rare cases.

Common warts:
Occurring on the hands, fingers or around fingernails as rough, raised bumps, common warts are nonmalignant skin growths. They could be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding and because of their appearance, they're usually nuisances.

Only a small percentage of children and adolescents that have been exposed to HPVs that cause warts actually develop them. After the age of 20, most people don't get common warts.

Oral and upper respiratory lesions:
Some low-risk HPV types, such as 6 and 11, or high-risk types, such as 16 and 18 may cause warts and other lesions on the tongue, larynx, soft palate, tonsils and nose.

Cervical cancer and other tumors:
Although persistent infections that last more than two years create a risk of cancer, most genital HPV infections of high-risk types don't develop into cancer. One of the common symptoms of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding between periods or excessively heavy menstrual bleeding.

All cases of cervical cancer are virtually caused by HPV infections. Because many women lack access to Pap test screening, cervical cancer is far more common worldwide. About 70% of all cases of cervical cancers are caused by HPV types 16 and 18.  

Plantar warts:
Occurring on the heel or ball of the feet, which are areas that feel the most pressure, plantar warts appear as hard, grainy and nonmalignant growths. Despite the fact that plantar warts are common in adulthood, however, most adults have encountered them first during adolescence or childhood.

Flat warts:
Occurring on the face, neck, wrists, elbows, knees or hands, flat warts appear as flat-topped, slightly raised and nonmalignant lesions which are darker than the regular skin color. Usually, children, adolescents and young adults are affected by HPV infections that cause flat warts.

Someone should seek medical advice in case they or their child has warts of any kind that cause pain, discomfort or embarrassment.

It's quite important for women to have regular Pap tests. A Pap test is the best way to detect an HPV infection that could lead to cervical cancer. At age 21, or about three years after a woman first begins to have sexual relations, she should begin annual Pap tests. In case tests have been normal for at least three consecutive years, women age 30 and older may have a Pap test every two to three years.


When the virus enters the body through a cut, abrasion or imperceptible tear in the outer layer of the skin, HPV infection occurs. Skin-to-skin contact is the primary way of the transfusion of the virus.

Sexual intercourse, anal sex and other skin-to-skin contact in the genital regions are how HPV infections that are associated with genital warts and related lesions are contracted. Through oral sex, some HPV infections may be contracted, leading to oral or upper respiratory lesions.

In some rare cases, during delivery, a mother with an HPV infection could transmit the virus to her infant. HPV infection in the baby's genitals or upper respiratory system could be caused by this exposure.





HPV infection has no cure. Warts usually go away without treatment, and the immune system usually rids the body of the virus.

To remove warts, there are a number of available treatments that could be either applied at home or performed by a doctor. Although these treatments don't eliminate the virus, they seem to reduce the concentration of HPV. For instance, the patient could still transmit HPV to a sexual partner even though they may have had their genital warts removed.

Some of the treatments for genital warts may include:


  • Podofilox, which is applied as a cream, and could destroy the tissue of genital wart
  • Laser surgery
  • Cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen)
  • Surgical removal
  • Imiquimod, which is a prescription medication that is applied as a cream and could enhance the ability of the immune system to fight HPV
  • Electrocautery, in which case an electrical current is used to burn off warts.
  • Trichloroacetic acid, which is a chemical treatment that burns off genital warts.

Because low-grade pre-malignant lesions will most likely go away on their own and not develop into cancer, the doctor probably won't treat them. However, to make sure that the problem has resolved, the patient will need to return for follow-up Pap tests.

Because high-grade pre-malignant lesions could develop into cancerous tumors, the patient will most likely be recommended their removal. Some of the treatment options may include:


  • Cryotherapy
  • Surgical removal
  • Electrocautery
  • Laser surgery

Some of the treatment options for common plantar and flat warts may include:


  • Surgical removal
  • Imiquimod
  • Laser surgery
  • Salicylic acid, which removes layers of a wart a little bit at a time
  • Cryotherapy


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