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HPV: The Cause of Genital Warts

HPV, otherwise known as the human papillomavirus, is the sexually transmitted infection that, in some strains, causes genital warts.

HPV infects an estimated 50% of people who have had sex at some time in their lives. It is spread mainly through genital contact and sexual skin-to-skin contact. HPV often does not always exhibit symptoms and it may go away on its own, without causing any health problems. However, HPV comes in many different strains, and some of these strains are responsible for genital warts while some have been linked to cervical and penile cancers. There is no cure for HPV although there are treatments for the health problems it can cause. Recently, an HPV vaccine has been developed to help prevent the spread of HPV.

HPV and Genital Warts

HPV is well known as the cause of genital warts. The HPV strains that cause genital warts are strains 6, 11, 30, 42, 43, 44, 45, 51, 52 and 54 of genital HPV. HPV strains 6 and 11 are responsible for the most visible genital warts, and they account for 90% of genital warts cases. Just because someone has a type of HPV that causes genital warts doesn't mean they will necessarily develop warts, but they could still pass the virus on to others, who may develop warts. Those who have been treated for genital warts but no longer have warts can also still pass the virus on to someone else. It can be years from the time someone contracts HPV to the time they actually get genital warts. This makes it hard to even pin down the time frame in which the HPV was contracted. Genital warts will not turn into cancer.

HPV and Cancer

HPV has also been implicated in various forms of genital cancers, most notably cervical cancer. Genital HPV strains 16 and 18 account for 70% of cervical cancer cases. Again, just because you have a strain of HPV that causes cervical cancer doesn't mean you will develop the cancer for sure, but you are at a higher risk than others in the population. Make sure to have regular pap smears to detect early signs of cervical cancer caused by HPV. The earlier cancer is detected, the more treatable it is.

HPV Transmission

HPV is spread direct contact between the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat during sexual activities. After infection occurs, warts can spread to other areas of the genitals or anus, but warts on the mouth or throat are very rare.

Condoms can lower the risk of becoming infected with HPV but they donít completely prevent it because they donít prevent all skin-to-skin contact. Female condoms cover more surface area than male condoms, and they are therefore more effective at reducing you chances of getting HPV from your sexual partner. Even if genital warts are not present, the HPV infection can still be spread. If you have ever had genital warts, or you think you may be infected with HPV, tell your sexual partner.

HPV Tests

There is a test for HPV that may be done on women who have abnormal pap tests. It tests for the strains of HPV that lead to cervical cancer, and it is used to determine the cause of ambiguous tissue samples taken during the pap smear. Women who test positive for HPV should be especially sure to have regular pap tests to detect the early signs of cervical cancer.