October 22, 2014
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HPV

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You can talk to your doctor or other health care provider to learn about preventing human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and the problems it can cause, like genital warts and cervical cancer. Prepare for your visit by using our HPV: Doctor Discussion Guide

 Frequently asked
 questions (FAQs)


Question: How common is HPV?

Find this and more answers to common questions about HPV.

Warts

(Genital Warts, Plantar Warts, Verrucae)

The Facts on Warts

Warts are small growths on the skin caused by a virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV). Warts are extremely common: it is estimated that about 25% of the population have a wart at any one time. Luckily, most warts are harmless. However, since they're caused by a virus, warts are very contagious.

Warts can grow anywhere on the skin. There are 6 clinically different types:

  • Common warts have a rather bumpy surface and appear most often on the hands and fingers (of children, in particular).
  • Flat or plane warts are small, smooth warts appearing in clusters on the back of the hands, face, or legs.
  • Plantar warts are those appearing on the soles of the feet.
  • Filiform warts form long, thin projections around the eyes, face, and neck.
  • Periungual warts (common in people who bite their nails) occur under and around the fingernails.
  • Genital (venereal) warts are those appearing on the genitalia.

Keep in mind that some warts can become cancerous, and some skin cancers can look like warts, so always get them checked by your doctor. Also remember, the sooner a wart is treated, the easier it will be to destroy - so don't procrastinate.

Causes of Warts

Warts can be caused by 70 different strains of HPV. These viruses exist naturally on human skin, so when a person's immune system is weak (from illness or medications) they are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Common, plantar, or plane warts can be acquired through something as simple as a cut. Walking barefoot in public areas is also a high-risk activity for contracting warts. Genital warts are more serious and also the most contagious. They are transmitted through direct sexual contact and may take from 1 to 24 months to appear.





Symptoms and Complications of Warts

Warts are generally easy to see or feel. People notice them as abnormal growths, bumps, or other odd changes of the skin. More specifically, plantar and genital warts have very distinct symptoms and are more serious types of warts:

  • Plantar warts sometimes resemble calluses. They are flat in appearance, deep-rooted in the skin, and can cause pain when you walk. They may be yellow or brown and may also be dotted with tiny grey-black nodules.
  • Genital warts are often small and flat. They can be pink, white, or grey. They can also join together, forming cauliflower-like growths. These warts are able to grow on both the external and internal genitalia, including the anus, vagina, urethra, and cervix. Genital warts can also appear in the throat if oral sexual contact occurs with an infected person.

Luckily, most HPV infections do not become cancerous. However, certain strains of HPV have been associated with the development of cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, anal cancer, and, rarely, cancer of the penis. If and when complications arise, they're often due to genital warts. Warts can also cause a number of problems during pregnancy. They can become bigger and interfere with urination and even cause obstruction during delivery. In rare instances, a baby can also develop warts in the throat (laryngeal papillomatosis) if the mother has genital warts. For this reason, it's important for women to have regular Pap smears, especially those who have experienced HPV infection or genital warts.

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