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HPV: Symptoms, Transmission & Treatment

Updated in January 2023

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus that results in the onset of genital warts. These warts generally appear after sexual contact with an infected person.

This disease has a chronic evolution and treatment is difficult, therefore early diagnosis is important. You should see your doctor for assessment as soon as you notice initial symptoms, so that appropriate treatment can be advised. 

Treatment of HPV is aimed at eliminated the virus and managing symptoms, like wart breakouts. This can be done by applying ointments directly on the lesions to reduce growth and spreading. You should also aim for lifestyle habits that help to strengthen the immune system.

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HPV symptoms

HPV symptoms can take months or years to show up. Flare-ups are triggered by the immune system and viral load (or the quantity of virus circulating in the body). The most characteristic symptom of HPV is the appearance of several small warts in the male or female intimate area.

In women, warts may present internally in non-visible areas such as the cervix. Therefore, HPV diagnosis should be confirmed with both a visual inspection and with a pap test or lab scraping. It can also be confirmed with a colposcopy. 

HPV symptoms in men

HPV in men is similar to HPV in women, but it’s very common for men to have no symptoms. The virus is present in the skin of the genital organ and can be passed on to others through intercourse without any visual indications of having it.

When two sexual partners are contaminated, it is often not possible to know who transmitted the virus to who. Even if the initial partner passed it on to the second, the initial partner can have eliminated the virus and test negative before the second even presents with symptoms.

How to treat HPV

HPV symptoms can last for around 2 years, and treatment duration usually corresponds to this length of time. Even if you do not present with any symptoms, you should follow recommendations provided by your doctor for an easier cure. The doctor may advise the following interventions: 

  • Use of topical ointments such as 0.15% Podophylotoxin, applied twice a day.
  • Solutions applied by the doctor in the office, like 70% and 90% trichloroacetic acid (ATA) and 15% Podofilox (Condylox) once per week
  • Sessions of cauterization (laser) procedures, completed in the office

Treatment of HPV is time-consuming and can be expensive, but it is the only way to beat the disease and reduce the risk of cancer in men and women.

Can HPV be cured?

In some people, HPV resolves on its own from spontaneous remission. This type of remission can happen between 4 weeks and 2 years after virus contamination in people who have a strong immune system and who rarely get sick.

It is possible to cure HPC through proper treatment. After performing medical interventions, the doctor will re-test you for HPV to confirm cure. 

Although treatment is not always enough to cure HPV definitively, you should still comply with it, as having HPV can increase your risk for cancer. 

How do you get HPV?

The HPV virus is highly contagious, and its transmission occurs through unprotected sex with an individual infected by the virus. It only takes 1 contact to become contaminated.

The incubation time of the virus varies from 1 month to 2 year. Although you may have no symptoms during this period, you can contaminate others. Women can also transmit HPV to the baby during normal delivery.

Is there a vaccine against HPV?

The HPV vaccine is indicated for women and men between the ages of 9 and 26 and the aim is to lower the risk of cervical, penile and anal cancer. 

Those who are sexually active or have already had HPV can also take the vaccine because it protects them against other types of HPV strains. After the vaccine is taken, it is still necessary to practice safe sex to avoid contamination with other HPV viruses.

Although very effective, this vaccine can have side effects.

Types of HPV virus

There are more than 100 types of HPV, with only 4 of them being cancer-related. Types 16 and 18 cause about 70% of cases of cervical cancer, while types 6 and 11 cause about 90% of genital warts.