diseases did 294

Diseases

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

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What is Human Papillomavirus?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) also known as wart virus or genital warts, is a particular type of virus that affects epithelial surfaces. Epithelium basically refers to a layer of cells. HPV usually causes warts in various parts of the body including the skin of palms (palmar warts), soles (plantar warts) and genitals. In addition, there are some types of HPV that can predispose to cervical cancer.

Who gets Human Papillomavirus?

HPV infection is extremely common and is thought to affect approximately 10-20% of women. Common plantar and palmar warts are the most common presentations of HPV in children and young adults. Genital warts are common amongst sexually active people.

However, not all patients with the virus will have symptoms or evidence of warts. Thus you or your partner may not know you have the virus and can pass it on unknowingly to each other.

Note that HPV is associated with cervical cancer and is found in over 95% of patients with this particular malignancy. Cervical cancer is now one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in Australian women.

Predisposing Factors

HPV is usually spread via sexual intercourse (known as a sexually transmitted infection – STI), skin-to-skin contact (especially if there are breaks in the skin) or to a baby during childbirth. There are therefore a number of factors that can increase your risk of disease: 

  • Multiple sexual partners- Note that condom use can reduce your risk but is not 100% effective as the virus can still be passed via direct skin contact.
  • A partner who has had multiple previous sexual partners.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use.
  • Stress and the presence of other viral infections (such as HIV or herpes) at the same time.
  • Problems with the immune system.

Some types of HPV particularly types 16 and 18 are associated with greater risks of cervical cancer. There are also a number of factors that can increase susceptibility such as tobacco use, ultraviolet radiation exposure, pregnancy, folate deficiency, and immune suppression.

Progression

Common warts can be hard to treat but tend to eventually resolve spontaneously, probably due to the body’s own immune response. Genital wart outbreaks can usually be controlled but are commonly associated with recurrences. Note that even if the virus is treated, you can still affect others.

As fore mentioned, some subtypes of HPV (HPV-16 and HPV-18) can lead to abnormal changes in cells (dysplasia) and increase your risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the cervix. This emphasises the importance of regular pap smears to detect and monitor the disease.

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Article Dates:

calendar icon Created: 11/12/2003 calendar icon Modified: 30/3/2009 calendar icon Reviewed: 13/5/2007