Papillomavirus Infections


Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by human papillomavirus. This is a group of more than one hundred viruses, at least thirty-five of which can infect the genital tissues. HPV is spread by direct contact of infected tissue with uninfected tissue during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. An estimated 50 percent of sexually active adults have been infected with one or more of the HPV types that cause genital infections. At any time, an estimated 20 million Americans have genital HPV infections. About 5.5 million Americans get a new genital HPV infection each year.

Most types of HPV that infect genital tissues do not cause any symptoms. Certain types of HPV cause genital warts that usually appear as soft, moist, pink, or red swellings that grow quickly. Several types of genital HPV infection (not usually the types that cause warts) can increase the risk of cervical cancer in women and other genital cancers in both women and men. A small percentage of women with certain types of abnormal cells will develop cancer if these cells are not removed. Frequent Pap smears and careful medical follow-up, with treatment if necessary, can help ensure that precancerous cells caused by HPV infection do not develop into life-threatening cervical cancer. Treatment can eliminate genital warts, but it does not necessarily eliminate genital HPV infection.

Latex or polyurethane condoms can help protect both the male and the female partner from most STDs. However, genital HPV, including genital warts, may be present in areas not covered by the condom, resulting in transmission of infection to a new person.



(SEE ALSO: Sexually Transmitted Diseases)


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1998). "1998 Guidelines for Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 47(RR-1):88–95.

Koutsky, L. A., and Kiviat, N. B. (1999). "Genital Human Papillomavirus." In Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 3rd edition, eds. K. Holmes, P. Mardh, P. Sparling et al. New York: McGraw-Hill.