Q: How common are HPV Infections?
A: HPV the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It has been estimated that 80 million people in the United States have the infection and that 14 million new people are exposed every year. Sexually active adults in the United States have a 50% – 70% chance of having been exposed to HPV at some time In their lifetime by the time they are 50 years old.
However, the highest incidence of HPV infections occurs in younger age groups. This is due to the fact that sexual experimentation and having multiple sexual partners is more frequent amongst younger people. As people age they tend to enter into more monogamous relationships and their exposure to HPV then declines.
Q: What do genital warts look like?
A: Genital warts often present as small growths in or around the genital region. This includes the penis, groin, pubic area, scrotum, vulva, vagina, anus, perianal area, thighs and lower abdomen. The growths are frequently confused with acne bumps. These growths can be single or in groups of clusters. They often appear flat, but can also be slightly elevated or raised, with a smooth or a rough texture with a cauliflower-like appearance. Genital warts range in color from flesh-colored to light, medium or dark brown. The growths frequently look like warts which occur on the hands. A person experiencing these symptoms should get evaluated.
Q: What are the different strains of HPV?
A: HPV strains are categorized by the number they were assigned rather than by name. The vast majority of strains of HPV are low risk. The term low risk strain indicates the likelihood of such a strain leading to cancer is low. The most common low risk strains are 6 and 11.
Similarly, the term high risk strain, indicates that these HPV strains have a higher than normal risk of causing a cancer. The most common high-risk strains are 16 and 18.
Most genital warts are made up of low risk strains. Genital warts are extremely contagious and are associated with a high recurrence rate. Genital warts that contain low risk strains have a negligible chance of progressing into a cancer.
Patients with HPV need to be monitored after treatment. Recurrences are common. In addition, 10% -15% of genital warts are “mixed” infections where more than one strain of HPV is involved. There are many cases in which both low-risk and a high-risk strains are found in the same genital wart.
Q: What are the risk factors that can lead to an HPV infection?
A: Risk factors for acquiring an HPV include:
- A history of multiple sexual partners
- Unprotected sex
- Being uncircumcised
- Cigarette smoking
- Second hand smoke exposure
- Chronic disease
- Immunocompromised conditions
- Immunosuppressive medications