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What Is Human Papillomavirus Infection?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that causes warts, which are unsightly growths on the skin. Warts are very common and aren’t serious or dangerous, but they aren’t pretty and can spread. Most warts disappear without treatment in 2 years, but they often return. Genital warts in females need treatment because they can lead to cervical cancer. A vaccine (Gardasil) against the genital wart virus is recommended for girls and women 9 to 26 years old. A vaccine (HPV4) is also available and recommended for boys aged 11 to 12 up to age 26.

What Causes Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Viruses called human papillomavirus (HPV) cause warts. Types 6, 11, 16, and 18 cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

Because warts are a viral infection, they can be passed from one person to another or spread to different parts of the body. Moist skin and open skin are more likely to become infected.

What Are the Symptoms of Human Papillomavirus Infection?

Warts look different on different parts of the body. Common warts look like little rough cauliflowers and often occur on hands, arms, and legs. Periungual warts occur around fingernails. Flat warts, slightly raised and flesh colored, occur on the face, knees, and elbows of children and young women. Genital warts occur on genital and rectal areas and are often transmitted sexually. Plantar warts occur on bottoms of feet. Filiform warts are small with hairlike bulges.

How Is Human Papillomavirus Infection Diagnosed?

The health care provider will do a physical examination and may order a biopsy of the wart or skin abnormality and blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. In a biopsy, a small piece of skin with the lesion is removed and studied under a microscope.

How Is Human Papillomavirus Infection Treated?

Treatment isn’t always successful, and not all warts need treatment. Treatment itself can cause problems, such as pain, infection, and scarring.

Treatment depends on wart location. Common warts can first be treated by a solution of salicylic and lactic acids. The solution is put on the wart each night, and the next morning dead skin is peeled off. Plantar warts can be treated with 40% salicylic acid plasters that are placed on the warts and removed weekly so dead skin can be taken off. The health care provider can prescribe stronger medicine if these treatments don’t work.

Genital warts almost always need a doctor’s care. The health care provider will use a blistering agent to remove the wart. Sexual partners will also need to be examined.

Other treatments include freezing, cutting, and burning (using a laser or electricity).

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Human Papillomavirus Infection:

  • DO treat warts early.
  • DO wash hands after touching your warts, but try not to touch them.
  • DO use salicylic acid solution on common warts and salicylic acid plasters on plantar warts as directed.
  • DO call your health care provider if your warts aren’t better after several weeks of treatment.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have genital warts.
  • DON’T bite fingernails, pick cuticles, or soak hands for long periods.
  • DON’T pick at, dig at, or pull on warts.
  • DON’T cut or scrape warts.
  • DON’T let other body parts come in contact with warts.
  • DON’T shave or cut hair over warts.

Contact the following sources:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Tel: (800) 311-3435
  • American Academy of Dermatology
    Tel: (866) 503-SKIN (7546)

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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