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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems.
How do people get HPV?
HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners—even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms. A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV. Very rarely, a pregnant woman with genital HPV can pass HPV to her baby during delivery. In these cases, the child can develop Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (RRP), a rare condition in which warts grow in the throat. In children, this is also referred to as juvenile-onset Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis (JORRP).
Signs & Symptoms
Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years. But there is no way to know which people who get HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems. • Sometimes, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females. Rarely, these types can also cause warts in the throat -- a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis or RRP. • Other HPV types can cause normal cells in the body to turn abnormal, and might lead to cancer over time. These HPV types can cause cervical cancer and other, less common cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck (tongue, tonsils and throat).
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer. What are the potential health problems of HPV?
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Health care providers can diagnose warts by looking at the genital area during an office visit. Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. Warts will not turn into cancer. Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced, very serious and hard to treat. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated early, before they ever turn into cancer.
Other HPV-related cancers might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat. These include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
RRP causes warts to grow in the throat. It can sometimes block the airway, causing a hoarse voice or troubled breathing. Although rare, RRP can occur among adults and children.(September 21, 2011) CDC: Human Papillomavirus (HPV), What is HPV? Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/WhatIsHPV.html