Human Papillomavirus Infection (Causes, Signs, and Symptom)

Human Papillomavirus Infection

Definition: Human papillomavirus infection (HPV infection) is an infection by human papillomavirus (HPV) commonly causes skin or mucous membrane growths (warts). Most HPV infections cause no symptoms and resolve spontaneously. There are more than 100 varieties of HPV, 40 of which are passed through sexual contact and can affect our genitals, mouth, or throat.

Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer. But some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina (cervix). Other types of cancers, including cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and back of the throat (oropharyngeal), have been linked to HPV infection.

An HPV infection is caused by human papillomavirus, a DNA virus from the papillomavirus family, of which over 170 types are known. Risk factors for persistent HPV infections include early age of first sexual intercourse, multiple partners, smoking, and poor immune function. HPV is typically spread by sustained direct skin-to-skin contact with vaginal and anal sex being the most common methods.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection that affects both men and women. It’s so common that most sexually active people will get some variety of it at some point, even if they have few sexual partners.

The different HPV types are classified into low and high risk based on their association with cancer. “Low risk” types rarely cause cancer. “High risk” types have a greater likelihood of causing cancer but they do not necessarily lead to cancer.

Vaccines can help protect against the strains of genital HPV most likely to cause genital warts or cervical cancer. Cervical cancer screening, such as with the Papanicolaou test (pap) or looking at the cervix after using acetic acid, can detect early cancer or abnormal cells that may develop into cancer. This allows for early treatment which results in better outcomes. Screening has reduced both the number of and deaths from cervical cancer in the developed world. Warts can be removed by freezing.

Causes and Factors of HPV infection: HPV infection occurs when the virus enters your body, usually through a cut, abrasion or small tear in your skin. The virus is transferred primarily by skin-to-skin contact.

Genital HPV infections are contracted through sexual intercourse, anal sex and other skin-to-skin contacts in the genital region. Some HPV infections that result in oral or upper respiratory lesions are contracted through oral sex.

Sexually transmitted HPV is divided into 2 categories: low-risk and high-risk. Low-risk HPVs cause warts on or around the genitals.

HPV various types can cause different conditions, including:

  • Skin warts: These infections are also known as common, plantar, or flat warts and are caused by low-risk types.
  • Genital warts: HPV types 6 and 11 cause most cases of genital warts and are low-risk types.
  • Cervical dysplasia: HPV can cause lesions of abnormal cells called cervical dysplasia in a woman’s cervix. The HPV infection often resolves and clears on its own, but cervical dysplasia should be treated because it can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Cervical cancer: The high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 cause about 70% of all cervical cancers. Types 16 and 18 have also been linked to penile cancer and anal cancer.

The majority of HPV infections are generally harmless, though they can be embarrassing. However, the HPV infections that can lead to cervical cancer and other types of cancers are a concern.

The risk factors for HPV infection include:

  • Age: Children and young adults are most at risk for developing common warts and flat warts. Genital HPV infections usually occur in teenagers and young adults.
  • Number of sexual partners: The higher the number of sexual partners, the greater the risk of genital HPV infection.
  • Immune system: People who have a compromised immune system (e.g., HIV or AIDS, organ transplant recipient, or who are taking medication that suppresses the immune system) are at an increased risk of genital HPV infection.

HPV is a skin-to-skin infection; intercourse isn’t required to contract the infection. In rare cases, a mother who has HPV can infect her baby during delivery.

Signs and Symptoms of HPV infection:  Most HPV infections go away on their own without any signs or symptoms. But the virus is still in an infected person’s body. When the virus doesn’t go away on its own, it can cause serious health problems. These include genital warts and warts in the throat (known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis).

HPV can also cause cervical cancer and other cancers of the genitals, head, neck, and throat. The virus may have been contracted years ago and it can remain in the body for weeks, years, or even a lifetime without showing any symptoms of an infection.

The type of symptoms depends on the type of HPV infection.

  • Common warts are painless, firm growths with a rough surface and appear on the knees, face, fingers, and around the nails.
  • Flat warts are small, smooth warts appearing in clusters on the back of the hands, face, or legs.
  • Plantar warts are those appearing on the soles of the feet. They can be painful because of their weight-bearing location on the feet.
  • Filiform warts form long, thin projections around the eyes, face, and neck.
  • Genital warts are small, cauliflower-shaped, or flat lesions. They occur on the genital areas including the vagina, cervix, vulva, penis, scrotum, and anus. They are usually painless but they can bleed, itch, or have some discharge.
  • Precancerous lesions or cervical dysplasia are abnormal cells in the cervix. These are painless and can only be detected with a Pap smear.

In very rare cases, HPV may cause epidermodysplasia verruciformis in individuals with a weakened immune system. The virus, unchecked by the immune system, causes the overproduction of keratin by skin cells, resulting in lesions resembling warts or cutaneous horns.

 

Information Source:

  1. mayoclinic.org
  2. medbroadcast.com
  3. healthline.com
  4. wikipedia