There are over 100 known types of HPV.
About 40 types can infect female and male genital areas. Genital HPV are grouped into two types:
- u Low-risk types of HPV can cause genital warts or may be completely harmless.
- u High-risk types of HPV increase the chances for some types of cancer, like cervical cancer.
How is it spread?
HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Women get HPV from sexual contact with someone who has it. HPV can be spread by vaginal, anal, oral or handgenital sexual contact. Someone who is infected but has no visible signs can still spread HPV to others. People can be infected with more than one type of HPV. Long-term sexual partners with HPV often have the same HPV types.
- There is an increased risk of genital HPV infection if you:
- u Become sexually active at an earlier age.
- u Have multiple sexual partners.
- u Smoke.
- u Have an immune system that does not work well due to a medical condition (e.g., cancer, HIV/AIDS) or from a medicine that weakens the immune system.
What are signs of HPV in women?
Most HPV infections have no signs that can been seen or felt. You can have HPV even if years have passed since you had sexual contact with an infected person. You may never know which sexual partner gave you HPV. HPV infection may cause:
- u Genital warts (infection with low-risk viruses).
- See Genital Warts (page 17) for more information.l
- u Cancer (infection with high-risk viruses).
- Cervical cancer (more common).l
- Cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, throat, tonguel or tonsils (less common).
How do you know if you have HPV?
Most women with HPV have no signs of infection. Since most HPV infections go away on their own within two years, many women never know they had an infection. Some HPV infections cause genital warts that can be seen or felt. The only way to know if you have HPV is to ask your health care provider to do an HPV test. Your health care provider may also examine you for other infections.
High-risk types of HPV infection can cause cervical cancer. To detect changes in the cervix caused by HPV, all women should get regular Pap tests. You should talk to your health care provider about when to start, how often, and when to stop having Pap tests.
- u Screen for cervical cancer and changes in the cervix that might turn into cancer.
- U Are done by a health care provider who collects a cell sample from the cervix with a small brush.
- u Can find abnormal cells on the cervix caused by HPV.
- u Can be done with an HPV test if:
- You are age 30 or older.l
- You have had an abnormal Pap test result.
- This willl show if HPV caused the changes.
- u Should be done within three years of first sexual contact or starting at age 21.
- u Are important, as treating pre-cancer changes on the cervix can prevent cervical cancer.
How is it treated?
Although genital HPV infections are very common, most show no signs and go away without treatment within a few years. If HPV does not go away, treatments are different for low risk HPV and high-risk HPV:
u Low-Risk HPV (Genital warts) – Even when genital warts are treated, HPV infection may remain. Warts can also come back after treatment. Over-thecounter treatments for other types of warts should not be used. Treatments for genital warts include:
- Watch and wait to see if the warts stay the same,l
- get bigger, or go away.
- Medicines put directly on the warts.l
- Burning off the warts.l
- Freezing off the warts.l
- Cutting the warts out.l
- Using special lights or lasers to destroy the warts.l