Approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and another 6.2 million people become newly infected each year. At least 50% of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. There are over 100 strains of the virus, and over 40 of them affect the genital skin. Some strains cause round, flesh colored bumps on the external genital skin or may look like warts do on any other part of the body, and some may affect the cervix. The vast majority of both women and men who have the virus do not have any visible signs whatsoever and are totally asymptomatic. They may therefore easily spread the virus to others without knowing.
HPV is spread through skin to skin contact with someone who has HPV infection. Often, warts appear 4-6 weeks after exposure to the infection from another person, but this is not always the case. Exposure may have occurred a long time prior to the appearance of external warts or Pap smear evidence of the virus. Wart-like lesions may be located on the external genital skin as well as on the buttocks.
Diagnosis of HPV can be made when a lesion is visible and also by a Pap test. The Pap test is a screening test designed to be sensitive enough to identify cellular abnormalities.
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Please click here for information about HPV.
Like HSV, HPV is treatable, but not curable. Visible lesions in the anal and genital regions can be removed fairly easily with cryotherapy. This technique, commonly referred to as "freezing" off a wart, is similar to the way a wart on any other body part is removed. Liquid nitrogen is applied to external lesions with a Q-tip and feels extremely cold. It is so cold that there may be a slight burning sensation. The procedure takes only a few minutes. The procedure is repeated once or twice a week until the lesions are gone. Untreated lesions may resolve on their own , stay the same, or progress.
Prevention of future outbreaks of HPV can be aided by having a healthy immune system, eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, managing stress effectively, and exercising regularly.
Does My Partner Need to Be Treated?
As noted above, most people with HPV are asymptomatic and do not have any visible lesions. Sometimes, lesions that cannot ordinarily be seen with the naked eye will be visible when dilute acetic acid (vinegar) is applied and the skin is examined under magnification. However, this is not always the case. The absence of visible lesions does not mean that he/she does not have the virus.
Will My Partner and I Pass it Back and Forth?
No. Once you both have a certain strain of HPV, you no longer pass it back and forth to each other.
Do I Need to Tell New Partners?
Telling a new partner that you have HPV may be difficult, but it is also an opportunity. Because of how common STI's are and because they are often asymptomatic , there is a good chance that he/she may have had an STI as well. An open discussion about STI's and safer sex is to BOTH of your advantages. What's more, how he/she responds to your telling him/her about your HPV infection will tell you a lot about what kind of person he/she is.
What is the Best Protection?
Condoms--and to a greater extent, female condoms---offer barrier protection against HPV and other STI's. But a condom does not cover all of the genital skin so the protection is by no means complete. Since the female condom covers more of your external genital skin, the protection is greater for both of you.
Women's Health does provide cryotherapy for women with HPV. Additionally, we offer a full range of women's health services, including routine Pap tests, well woman exams, and follow-up of abnormal Pap tests, including colposcopy. Men who wish to be evaluated and treated for HPV should schedule an appointment with the general medical side of Student Health Services to receive care.
The Gardasil HPV vaccine is also available for females between the ages of 9 and 26. Gardasil protects against 4 HPV types, which together cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts. For more information about the HPV vaccine, click here.