What are the symptoms of HPV?

November 12, 2012

What are the symptoms of HPV?

The human papillomavirus is the full name for the condition better known as HPV, which has had a lot of media attention since the FDA approved a vaccine for it. Despite hearing the name, many people are still unsure of the symptoms of HPV, which they should be looking out for or how to find out if they are infected. There are many different forms of HPV, many of which affect both male and female genitalia and can cause a variety of different symptoms and conditions, with the most serious being cancer. There are high and low risk strains of HPV with cancer obviously being one of the high-risk symptoms of HPV. Cancer isn’t an immediate symptom of HPV though; it usually takes several years for untreated cervical abnormalities caused by HPV to develop into cervical cancer. The most common symptom of HPV in the low risk strains is genital warts, followed by cervical abnormalities. These low risk strains cannot cause cancer and are easily detected in routine Pap smears. Both high and low risk strains of HPV can be contacted through sexual behaviour and it is possible to be infected with more than one strain. In most people the infections and the symptoms of HPV clear up by itself. Genital warts are one of the most common symptoms of HPV and can appear on, in and around the genitals of both men and women. They are cauliflower like growths, which can be identified by a doctor if you are unsure. The presence of genital warts does not increase your chances of developing cancer. You cannot rely on checking for genital warts to tell whether or not you have HPV though, as in some people genital warts never appear and in rare cases can actually appear up to years after having contracted the virus.

The high-risk strain of the virus, which can potentially lead to the development of cancer, normally doesn’t reveal any symptoms of HPV. In most cases the only way of determining whether or not a woman is infected is through Pap smears and pelvic exams. Pap smears can reveal any abnormalities or changes to the cervix so they can be treated long before turning cancerous. As there are often no other visual or physical symptoms of HPV it is important that women have a regular Pap smear. It is not as easy to determine whether or not a man is has HPV as there is currently no medical screening to test for it. All a doctor can do is check for genital warts and other physical symptoms of HPV but it is possible for a man to be infected without knowing it.

As HPV is spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact rather than via bodily fluids, it is extremely hard to prevent the spread of the infection. The vaccine of course is the best way and protect against 4 strains of the virus. Other than having the vaccine there is not much more you can do. The fewer sexual partners you have during your lifetime reduces the risk of contacting the virus and it has been suggested that wearing a condom may slightly reduce the chances of spreading HPV and the symptoms of HPV but this is yet to be confirmed.

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