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Human Papillomavirus Infection In Females

Alternate Names

  • genital HPV
  • venereal wart infection

Definition

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, infection is a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, caused by a group of viruses. When signs or symptoms of HPV develop, it is called a sexually transmitted disease, or STD.

What is going on in the body?

More than 70 types of HPV have been classified. Some types cause genital warts otherwise known as venereal warts. Other types may lead to cervical cancer.
It is estimated that 70% of sexually active women have been exposed to HPV. Those women who become infected do not always have visible genital warts. The virus may be quiet, or not active, for a long time.
Symptoms may then occur as a result of illness or stress on the immune system, such as other vaginal infections. Sexual contact with a new partner who is infected with a different type of HPV may trigger an outbreak of visible lesions.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The human papilloma virus is usually passed from one partner to another during sexual activity. Any intimate contact of the genitals, mouth, rectal area, or the sharing of sexual toys can transmit the organism from one individual to another. A woman's risk of HPV infection is increased if she has more than one sexual partner.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the infection?

Safer sex practices can help lower a woman's risk of HPV infection. The use of male condoms or female condoms can reduce, but does not always prevent, catching or spreading the human papilloma virus. The virus may be outside the "field of protection," such as on the scrotum or the outer area of the vagina.
Avoiding intimate sexual activity is the only definite way of avoiding genital warts.
Having sex with only one partner, who is disease-free, is the most practical way of avoiding STIs.
To prevent spreading the virus to other areas of the body, hands should be washed after touching the area where the warts are located. A hair dryer can be used to keep the area dry. Sexual contact should be avoided until all warts are healed after treatment. Scratching of warts should be avoided because they may bleed and spread.

Diagnosed

How is the infection diagnosed?

Genital warts on the skin are often noticed by the woman or her partner and confirmed by a healthcare provider. A Pap smear may show changes from the virus even if genital warts are not seen. These changes may be the abnormal cells of cervical dysplasia or even cancer of the cervix. Special tests to determine the type of HPV may also be done to determine if there may be an increased risk of cancer.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the infection?

Certain types of human papilloma virus are associated with genital warts and have a small chance of causing cancer.
Several other types of HPV are associated with cervical dysplasia and cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva. A woman who has an HPV infection combined with genital herpes may further increase the risk of cervical cancer.
If a woman with HPV smokes, her chance of developing cervical dysplasia is also much higher.
During pregnancy, genital warts of HPV may grow to an extremely large size. This may result in heavy bleeding during a vaginal delivery of the child. There is also a risk of transmitting the virus to the infant's vocal cords. Extensive growth of warts during pregnancy may require a cesarean birth for these reasons.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Human papilloma virus is highly contagious and can be spread through sexual intercourse and other intimate contact. It can also be transmitted to the vocal cords of a newborn during delivery.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the infection?

Treatment of human papilloma virus does not necessarily cure the infection. The virus may still be present in the cells around the genital region. It often is not detected until a wart occurs or the woman has an abnormal Pap smear. today.
The main methods of treatment are as follows:
  • 5-fluorouracil cream or an antiviral cream , which can be applied to external vaginal warts by the woman at home. These work best for small warts.
  • surgical removal of the warts with a scalpel
  • loop electrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP, which is a procedure that uses an electrical current to remove the warts
  • cryotherapy, which uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the warts
  • laser surgery, which uses laser beams to vaporize the warts
  • electrocautery, or burning of the warts
  • chemical treatments of external warts. A chemical such as podophyllin may be used once or twice a week for 6 weeks or until the warts disappear. The warts commonly come back after this kind of treatment.
  • antiviral therapy, which often involves injection of a biological response modifier such as interferon. This chemical is injected directly into a wart to prevent the virus.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

During cryotherapy, women often feel cramping and pelvic discomfort. For about a month afterward, they may have a great deal of watery vaginal discharge.
Laser surgery,LEEP, and other procedures may cause the following:
  • foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • cervicitis, or inflammation of the cervical tissue
  • bleeding
  • an allergic reaction to any local anesthesia used during the procedure
  • additionally, with any method of removing the warts, the skin will be raw and painful until it heals

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the infection?

Additional treatment may be necessary over weeks or months because of high rates of recurrence. In addition, a woman should tell her sexual partners about the problem to prevent possible spread to others.
If the partner has warts, he or she should be treated and removed before having intercourse with him or her again.
Regular Pap smears are also important to detect any abnormal cells or cancer of the cervix.

Monitor

How is the infection monitored?

Being screened for HPV infection every year, or any time there is a new sexual partner, is a good practice. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.

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