Human Papillomavirus

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected, and about 14 million people are newly infected each year.

There are more than 100 strains of the HPV virus, 40 of which are sexually transmitted and directly affect the genitals. Some strains are often asymptomatic but are the cause of 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. Other HPV strains are associated with genital warts.

Common Causes
The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact. In rare cases, a mother with HPV can transmit the virus to her infant during childbirth.

Common Symptoms
Many people will not experience any symptoms, as the body's immune system usually will beat the virus before it can create any warts.

Warts can appear on various parts of the body, depending on the strain of the virus. Genital warts can be flat lesions; small, cauliflower-textured bumps; or small, stem-like protrusions.

Treatment Options
According to the Mayo Clinic, warts usually will disappear on their own as the body's immune system fights off the virus. Over-the-counter treatments may be used on warts on the hands and feet. A doctor may prescribe topical treatments for genital warts, or may suggest surgical procedures to remove them.

You can reduce your risk of contracting HPV by consistently and correctly using latex condoms during intercourse and limiting your number of sexual partners. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all boys and girls ages 11 and 12 be vaccinated. Women and men up to age 26, who were not vaccinated when younger, should be vaccinated as well.

Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by two strains of the HPV virus. Women aged 21 to 65 years should receive routine cervical cancer screenings, as early stages of the disease may not present with any symptoms.