Questions & Answers
Human Papillomavirus - The Disease
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  1. What is Human Papillomavirus?
    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of common viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are transmitted through gential contact most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV infects the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina), or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum.

  2. How do you know if you have Human Papillomavirus?

    The virus lives in the skin or mucous membranes and usually causes no symptoms. Since a majority of HPV infections have no signs or symptoms, most people that are infected are completely unaware and can continue to transmit the virus to sex partner(s).

    Depending on the type of HPV, some women have infections that cause abnormal cell growth (dysplasia) on the female cervix. A woman may only find out she has HPV when her annual Pap smear results indicate abnormal cervical cell changes.

    Other types of HPV cause visible genital warts. In women, these growths may develop inside the vagina, where they are hard to detect. They can also develop on the lips of the vagina or around the anus. In men, they usually appear on the penis, but they are also found on the scrotum or around the anus.

    The growths are typically soft, moist, pink or red swellings and are usually painless but may itch. If allowed to grow, they can block the openings of the vagina, urethra, or anus and become very uncomfortable. They can be single or multiple growths or bumps, raised or flat, small or large and sometimes form a cauliflower-like shape. Depending on their location, genital warts can cause sores and bleeding.

  3. How serious is Human Papillomavirus, especially to the Armed Forces?
    Most HPV infections have no signs or symptoms; therefore, most infected persons are unaware they are infected, yet they can transmit the virus to a sex partner. HPV infections are the leading cause of cervical cancer in women and it has been linked to other less common genital cancers to include cancer of the anus, vagina and vulva. HPV also causes genital warts in men and women.

  4. Is there a treatment for Human Papillomavirus?
    HPV has no known cure although the body often will clear the infection on its own. You can receive treatment for the health problems that HPV causes, such as gential warts, cervical dysplasia, and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus.

Rate and Spread

  1. How common is Human Papillomavirus in the United States?
    It is estimated that 50% of all sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime. According to the American Social Health Association, approximately 5.5 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year. At least 20 million people in this country are already infected. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, 9,700 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,700 will die from this disease in the U.S. alone.

  2. How is Human Papillomavirus spread from one person to another?
    HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or (rarely) oral sex with someone who is infected.

  3. How long does it take to show signs of Human Papillomavirus after being exposed?
    The average time from exposure to lesion expression is approximately three months but varies greatly from a few weeks to years or decades.

  4. How long does an outbreak of Human Papillomavirus last?
    Genital warts may go away on their own or with treatment, or they may last for years. It is common for genital warts to return after they are removed.

  5. How long is a person with Human Papillomavirus contagious?
    The types of HPV that infect the genital area are spread primarily through sexual contact. Genital warts are very contagious and are spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Even though the warts can be removed, the skin surrounding the area from which the wart came usually remains infected with HPV and may be contagious.

  6. Can you get Human Papillomavirus more than once?
    Yes. An individual can clear an HPV infection and then have a recurrence. Depending upon the treatment used, different recurrence rates have been noted. It is also possible to be reinfected with the same or different strain of HPV from contact with an infected partner.