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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Treatment And Prevention

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a common viral infection that occurs mainly due to skin-to-skin contact [1] . The transfer occurs mostly due to sexual intercourse and so, sexually active men and women are its main target.


HPV commonly spread during anal, vaginal or oral sex. It passes from an infected person to a healthy person during sex. However, penetrative sex is not necessary for the virus to transfer as it can transfer generally by coming in skin contact with the infected genitals, especially through the mucus on the penis, anus, vulva or vagina [2] . HPV can pass even when a person has no symptoms of the disease. Another body part which it affects is throat, tongue, hand and feet.


Most people suffer from HPV infection at least once in their lifetime. In some people, it goes away on their own but in other cases, it may cause serious health issues like cancer and genital warts. Talking about its types, there are around 100 different types of HPV out of which 14 are high-risk type virus responsible for cancer [3] .

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Symptoms Of Human Papillomavirus Infection

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of the infection goes on their own within a period of 2 years. Some people don't show the symptoms though the virus is present in their body but it gets transmitted to others unknowingly after intercourse.

When HPV is transferred to another person, symptoms start showing and based on the same, a doctor can identify what type of HPV is transferred to their body. The different types of HPV cause different types of symptoms which are as follows:

  • Genital warts:Appear mostly in penis, scrotum, vulva, anus, and vagina. They are identified as flat lesions, stemlike protrusions, or cauliflower-like bumps [4] .
  • Plantar warts:They are mainly hard and grainy in shape and appears on heels and balls of the feet [5] .
  • Common warts:These warts are identified as rough raised bumps occurs mainly on hands and fingers [6] .
  • Flat warts:These occur mainly on the face, beard area, and on the legs identified by a flat and bulging lesion [7] .
  • Oropharyngeal warts:They comes in various shapes and sizes and occurs mainly in oral surfaces like tongue and tonsils [8] .

Causes Of Human Papillomavirus Infection

Several causes are responsible for the spread of HPV. Some of the main causes are as follows:

  • Cut on the skin, skin tear, or skin abrasion allowing the virus to enter the skin easily.
  • Coming in contact with infected skin.
  • Sexual intercourse or coming in contact with the infected genitals.
  • If a pregnant mother is infected by the virus, the infection can be transferred to their child.
  • Kissing, as the infection may get transferred orally if it is present in the mouth/throat of a person [9] .
  • Smoking, when the virus is present in the mouth of an infected person and it gets transferred to others while sharing a cigarette [10] .

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Risk Factors Of Human Papillomavirus Infection

As HPV is among the most common infection, there are some of the risk factors which people should be aware of to prevent the transfer of the virus into their body.

The risk factors are as follows:

  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Cuts or tears in the body
  • Low immunity [11] .
  • Public shower or bathing in public swimming pools.

Diagnosis Of Human Papillomavirus Infection

Usually, a medical expert can identify HPV easily by a visual inspection. However, if needed, they can go for tests like

  • pap smear test [12] ,
  • DNA test, and
  • acetic acid solution test.

HPV in the genitals of a woman can sometimes lead to cervical cancer. In that case, testing for pre-cancer lesions is carried out by a process called Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) and cryotherapy [13] .

Treatment Of Human Papillomavirus Infection

The treatment of the infection depends on the type of virus affecting a person. In many cases, the infection needs no treatment but in severe cases, invasive treatments are required. HPV can be treated by

  • Medicines which can be directly applied to the lesions. For example, medicines that contain salicylic acid, Trichloroacetic acid, and Imiquimod.
  • Surgical treatments include burning the virus with electric current or freezing the infected area with liquid nitrogen in case of genital warts.
  • Colposcopy [14] to identify any precancerous lesions in the cervix which may result in cervical cancer.

How To Prevent Human Papillomavirus Infection

There are several ways by which a person can prevent the spread of the infection. Preventive measures are as follows:

  • If you have warts on your hands, don't bite the nails or poke them.
  • Wear your own shoes while visiting public pools. Don't walk barefooted to the locker room.
  • Use a condom to avoid the transfer of HPV.
  • Stay in a monogamous relationship, sexual relationship with one partner.
  • Don't take cigarettes from a random person.
  • Avoid wearing other people's shoes or innerwear.
View Article References  
  1. [1]   1. Braaten, K. P., & Laufer, M. R. (2008). Human Papillomavirus (HPV), HPV-Related Disease, and the HPV Vaccine. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology, 1(1), 2–10.
  2. [2]   Panatto, D., Amicizia, D., Trucchi, C., Casabona, F., Lai, P. L., Bonanni, P., … Gasparini, R. (2012). Sexual behaviour and risk factors for the acquisition of human papillomavirus infections in young people in Italy: suggestions for future vaccination policies. BMC public health, 12, 623. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-623
  3. [3]   Doorbar, J., Egawa, N., Griffin, H., Kranjec, C., & Murakami, I. (2015). Human papillomavirus molecular biology and disease association. Reviews in medical virology, 25 Suppl 1(Suppl Suppl 1), 2–23. doi:10.1002/rmv.1822
  4. [4]   Yanofsky, V. R., Patel, R. V., & Goldenberg, G. (2012). Genital warts: a comprehensive review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 5(6), 25–36.
  5. [5]   Witchey, D. J., Witchey, N. B., Roth-Kauffman, M. M., & Kauffman, M. K. (2018). Plantar warts: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and clinical management. J Am Osteopath Assoc, 118(2), 92-105.
  6. [6]   Studer, L., & Cardoza-Favarato, G. (2018). Human Papillomavirus. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  7. [7]   Prose, N. S., von Knebel-Doeberitz, C., Miller, S., Milburn, P. B., & Heilman, E. (1990). Widespread flat warts associated with human papillomavirus type 5: a cutaneous manifestation of human immunodeficiency virus infection. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 23(5), 978-981.
  8. [8]   Candotto, V., Lauritano, D., Nardone, M., Baggi, L., Arcuri, C., Gatto, R., … Carinci, F. (2017). HPV infection in the oral cavity: epidemiology, clinical manifestations and relationship with oral cancer. ORAL & implantology, 10(3), 209–220. doi:10.11138/orl/2017.10.3.209
  9. [9]   Touyz L. Z. (2014). Kissing and hpv: honest popular visions, the human papilloma virus, and cancers. Current oncology (Toronto, Ont.), 21(3), e515–e517. doi:10.3747/co.21.1970
  10. [10]   Xi, L. F., Koutsky, L. A., Castle, P. E., Edelstein, Z. R., Meyers, C., Ho, J., & Schiffman, M. (2009). Relationship between cigarette smoking and human papilloma virus types 16 and 18 DNA load. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 18(12), 3490–3496. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-09-0763
  11. [11]   Song, D., Li, H., Li, H., & Dai, J. (2015). Effect of human papillomavirus infection on the immune system and its role in the course of cervical cancer. Oncology letters, 10(2), 600–606. doi:10.3892/ol.2015.3295
  12. [12]   Ilter, E., Celik, A., Haliloglu, B., Unlugedik, E., Midi, A., Gunduz, T., & Ozekici, U. (2010). Women's knowledge of Pap smear test and human papillomavirus: acceptance of HPV vaccination to themselves and their daughters in an Islamic society. International Journal of Gynecologic Cancer, 20(6), 1058-1062.
  13. [13]   Gage, J. C., Rodriguez, A. C., Schiffman, M., Garcia, F. M., Long, R. L., Budihas, S. R., … Jeronimo, J. (2009). Treatability by cryotherapy in a screen-and-treat strategy. Journal of lower genital tract disease, 13(3), 174–181. doi:10.1097/LGT.0b013e3181909f30
  14. [14]   Nam K. (2018). Colposcopy at a turning point. Obstetrics & gynecology science, 61(1), 1–6. doi:10.5468/ogs.2018.61.1.1

Story first published: Sunday, September 8, 2019, 8:01 [IST]
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