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HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)
|HPV is one of the most common of more than 30 different
STI's in Canada and America today. Although it is normal and healthy for people
to enjoy active sex lives, many people find sex and sexual health very difficult
to talk about. Please don't let embarrassment become a health risk.
HPV can be contracted by using shared toilet facilities, steam room
benches, swimsuits and sexual transmission.
for your doctor to ask—take charge, speak
up, and ask questions. It may save your life.
|Know that you are not alone.
Although you may
be upset to learn that you have an HPV infection, it is increasingly common among
adults. Share your concerns with your health care provider and your partner.
There may also be a support group in your area for HPV patients and partners.
|What is HPV?
There are at least 100 kinds of human papilloma virus. Some cause warts on
various parts of the body: plantar warts on the feet, common hand warts,
juvenile warts, butcher's warts, and genital warts. They also cause other
genital HPV infections that are not visible. A wide variety of benign and
cancerous growths also may be associated with HPVs. HPV has been demonstrated to
cause vulvar or cervical cancer in some women. Warts may appear within several
weeks after sexual contact with a person who has HPV, or they may take months or
years to appear; or they may never appear.
many people have genital HPV infections?
Up to one out of 10 Americans have genital HPV
infections. Between 500,000 and one million new cases of genital warts occur
every year. Some studies show that about one-third of all sexually active
teenagers have genital HPV infections. Because they don't have symptoms or don't
recognize them, millions of others do not know they carry HPV.
HPV is very contagious.
HPVs are now recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer. Studies also
suggest that HPVs may play a role in cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina,
and penis, and some cancers of the oropharynx (the middle part of the throat
that includes the soft palate, the base of the tongue, and the tonsils).
are the symptoms of HPV?
HPV infections cause a variety of problems. But
sometimes there are no symptoms of infection. People with HPV do not always know
they have it.
can I recognize genital HPV infections?
Genital warts caused by HPV may be found on the vulva,
in the vagina, and on the cervix, penis, anus, and urethra of infected women and
men. They are found very rarely in the mouth or throat. They often are
flesh-colored, are soft to the touch, and may look like miniature cauliflower
florets. Usually they grow in more than one location and may cluster in large
Genital warts usually are painless but may itch. If allowed to grow, they can
block the openings of the vagina, urethra, or anus and become very
uncomfortable. Depending on their location, genital warts can cause sores and
bleeding. Genital warts often grow more rapidly during pregnancy. An increase in
the size and number of genital warts is also seen when a person's immune system
is weakened by diabetes, an organ transplant, Hodgkin's disease, HIV/AIDS, or
There are other genital HPV infections that cannot be seen with the naked
eye. Some are more dangerous than genital warts because they are associated with
cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, or penis.
are genital HPV infections spread?
Genital HPVs can spread whether or not warts are
present. They usually are spread by vaginal or anal intercourse. Because genital
HPV infections are often unseen, they can be passed by sex partners who do not
know they're infected. It may also be possible by contact with the virus
through such potential vehicles as toilet facilities, steam room benches, shared
swimsuits or underwear.
is most likely to get genital HPV infections?
People most at risk for genital HPV infections are:
weakened immune systems
|people who are
sexually involved with a number of different partners
sex partners are sexually involved with a number of different partners
The majority of those now seeking treatment for genital warts are young women
between the ages of 15 and 29.
can I avoid getting genital HPV infections?
Do not have intimate contact with someone who has
genital warts. Insist on using a latex condom if you do not know whether a sex
partner has HPV. It is not known how much protection condoms provide against
HPV, but condoms offer effective protection against AIDS and other serious
sexually transmitted infections (STI's).
can people with genital warts avoid spreading them?
Women and men should inspect their genitals periodically
for symptoms. This may help prevent the spread of STI's, including the genital
People should stop having intimate contact as soon as they know or think
they have genital warts. They should seek treatment immediately.
What can be done?
Medical examination is the first step in determining if there is a genital
HPV infection. Many times a woman does not notice warty lesions, but her
physician may see something out of the ordinary while performing a routine
gynecologic examination or Pap smear that suggests the need for further
After inquiring about the woman's health history, the physician
will examine her genital area.
Lesions may be seen better when the area is first rinsed with a solution of 3
to 5% acetic acid (vinegar), which helps to reveal flat or undistinguished
lesions or tissue changes by making them appear whiter.
Pap smear of cells from the cervix and upper vagina may be done even if tissue
appears normal. Pap smear results can be used to screen for tissue changes in
the cervix and help corroborate findings of other tests like colposcopy or
Colposcopy, viewing the cervix through a special microscope, may be used to
identify subtle tissue changes. Colposcopy also allows a sample of any
suspicious tissue to be taken by the examiner.
Prior to colposcopy, the perineum, vagina and cervix will be washed with a
vinegar solution. With the woman lying in the pelvic examination position, a
speculum is used to widen her vagina for better viewing. The colposcope is
positioned just outside the vulva, and a light is shined in to illuminate the
cervix and highlight any irregular-appearing areas. At this time, small snips of
cervical tissue may be removed for laboratory analysis (biopsy) or
determination of the specific HPV type.
Colposcopic examination takes about 20 to 30 minutes and is only somewhat
more uncomfortable or involved than a standard pelvic examination. As with other
minor surgical procedures, though, removing tissue for biopsy can in rare
instances lead to bleeding, infection or more serious complications.
Infection with HPV has no definitive cure. HPV is a persistent and
difficult-to-eradicate organism, so treatment must usually be repeated and an
infected woman monitored throughout her life for recurrence or development of
precancerous changes whether or not warts are apparent.
- Because the 'live' virus resides in the lesions it creates, treatment for
HPV consists primarily of controlling infection spread through removal of
visible warts or precancerous lesions.
Lesion removal can be accomplished by various forms of surgery, by freezing,
or by chemicals or drugs applied locally. The method(s) used will depend upon
the extent of infection, location and accessibility of lesions, and potential of
the lesions for cancer. To ensure that as many lesions as possible are treated,
colposcopy may be used during therapy to better view internal lesions.
Surgery is sometimes used to cut away warts located where treatment without
anesthesia would cause discomfort, or warts so extensive that simultaneous
reconstructive surgery is required. Surgery can take the form of either excisional biopsy done as an outpatient
procedure or a more involved procedure performed under anesthesia. Discomfort
postoperatively can be relieved by pain medication; bleeding or scarring may
Cryotherapy (freezing) may be done several ways. Superficial cryotherapy
involves liquid nitrogen applied by cotton swab to minor external warts.
Extensive lesions can be frozen faster and to a greater depth with a cold
cautery device which pinpoints warts on the perineum, the cervix and most areas
in the vagina. Cold cautery cryotherapy is usually performed within one week
after menstrual flow ceases, though it cannot be used in women who are pregnant.
After cryotherapy women may experience cramping, abdominal pain, infection or
(rarer) cervical scarring. Analgesics (usually non-aspirin pain medication)
given before cryotherapy will relieve discomfort, and icepacks applied
externally after the procedure will reduce any swelling or inflammation.
Considerable watery vaginal discharge for 10 to 20 days after cryotherapy is
normal. However, a woman experiencing fever, pain unrelieved by analgesics, or
unusually prolonged discharge should contact her physician immediately.
Laser therapy utilizes a high-intensity beam of light to vaporize lesions,
particularly those that are external, perianal, or in less accessible locations.
In the hands of a well-trained and experienced physician, laser therapy is
highly effective in removing multiple lesions. Laser therapy is generally more
expensive than other forms, and risks include removal of too much tissue,
delayed healing, scarring or pain, including chronic pain.
Acids such as trichloroacetic acid (TCA) or bichloroacetic acid
(BCA) can be carefully painted on visible warts using a small cotton swab
or wooden applicator. To be effective, TCA or BCA must be applied in proper
concentrations, but these sometimes cause a burning sensation after treatment.
Local and systemic analgesics will help relieve any discomfort. Scarring and
chronic pain are potential aftereffects.
5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) creamtm this
medicinal cream applied to the vulva on a regular regimen can be effective in
controlling external lesions. However, it should not be used by pregnant women
and may cause serious skin irritation. It is also used as a chemotherapy drug.
a newer drug approved
for injection into a muscle or select lesions, interferon is expensive, has
significant systemic side effects and cannot be used during pregnancy.
Podophyllintm once a popular
treatment, painting of visible lesions with Podophyllin is used less often now
because it cannot be used during pregnancy or for most internal lesion sites and
because of possible carcinogenesis and toxic reactions.
- After any HPV treatment, the treated area should be kept clean and dry
(cornstarch dusting, cotton underwear and loose clothing are recommended).
Sexual intercourse should be avoided until healing has occurred externally and
internally (usually 2 to 4 weeks).
Diligence in keeping scheduled follow-up appointments is needed to keep HPV
Follow-up colposcopy and Pap smears are usually scheduled at 3-month
intervals after treatment of HPV and yearly thereafter. These tests monitor that
the cervix, in particular, remains free of precancerous or cancerous tissue.
A woman with HPV should notify any sexual partner(s) of her infection, use
latex condoms with every partner (unless in a mutually monogamous relationship),
and urge that her partner be treated for HPV if his physician has identified HPV
lesions. Not only do these measures express consideration for her partner, they
also diminish her chances of being reinfected with new or different types of
human papilloma virus.
What can I do?
Information is your best defense against HPV infection or its potential for
- Know that you are not alone.
you may be upset to learn that you have HPV infection, it is increasingly common
among sexually active adults. Share your concerns with your health care provider
and your partner. There may also be a support group in your area for HPV
patients and partners.
If you are infected with HPV, maintain good hygiene
including proper rest, stress reduction and diet. Acidy foods will bother
it. Decrease alcohol intake and
illicit drug use. Healthy habits will bolster your immune system's ability to
minimize the effects of HPV.
Condoms are recommended for all sexual contacts other than a
mutually exclusive (monogamous) relationship. Condoms prevent transmission of
infection to your partner and lower your risk of becoming infected with a
different form of HPV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Applying spermicides with nonoxynol-9 to affected or treated
areas may be helpful in reducing transmission of the virus. Discuss with your
physician whether spermicide application is appropriate for you and your HPV
Everyone with genital lesions, and all partners of persons with genital
lesions, should alert new sexual partners about HPV infection
risk and take precautions to limit spread of HPV.
In addition, every sexually active person should be aware of the prevalence
of HPV and take measures to lower their risk of infection.