What is the connection between HPV and genital warts?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It’s the virus that causes warts of all kinds, such as those commonly found on the hand. There are over 80 different strains of HPV, and each strain infects a specific type of skin. Certain strains of HPV infect skin in the genital area only. These strains may cause warts in the genital area or, genital warts. Many people who have HPV don’t know it because the virus often causes no symptoms.
Warts are the common symptom caused by HPV infection. Genital warts can be flesh colored, white or grey, and vary in size; they can be flat or raised off the skin in a cauliflower-like formation. Just like warts elsewhere on the body, genital warts are usually benign, which means they aren’t likely to cause health complications. Treatment of physical warts includes different measures to remove the symptoms from the surface of the skin. Some treatments include mild acid treatments that can be applied directly to the skin or cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen) which can be performed by a health care provider. Some patients may choose not to have the growths removed. Decisions about treatment should be made with a health care provider. Once symptoms are removed, transmission from the skin may still be possible.
Warts may also re-grow. Some strains of HPV primarily infect the cervix and usually do not cause warts. These same strains have been strongly associated with cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer. Regular pap smears play an important role in detecting cell changes related to HPV and in providing early treatment. HPV does not always cause cervical cancer, but it is an added risk factor for women. Treatment of the cervix includes either mild acid applications or cryotherapy. The goal of treatment is to remove the abnormal cells. Frequent pap smears are important in monitoring the cell growth after treatment.
HPV is transmitted during sexual contact when infected genital skin rubs against uninfected genital skin. HPV is not passed through body fluids, and getting HPV in the mouth through oral sex is unlikely. Preventing transmission requires barrier protection. Latex condoms or female condoms will protect the skin that they fully cover. It is important to know that genital warts can infect skin outside of the areas that would be covered by a condom. Abstaining from genital skin-to-genital skin contact is the only way to ensure protection from the virus.