The Symptoms of HPV
HPV or Human Papillomavirus is one of the papillomavirus
group of viruses that can infect humans. Papillomaviruses
infect the epithelial, or outer, layer of the skin or
mucous membrane in the body. There are close to 200
identified strains of HPV.
What are the symptoms of HPV?
The majority of HPV strains actually produce no noticeable
symptoms while other strains may or may not produce
symptoms in some people. You can be infected with HPV
without being aware of it because there may be no obvious
The most common symptom of HPV is warts; these may
be produced by some strains of the virus. There are
also certain HPV strains that may develop into certain
cancers, mainly genital cancers.Warts, or verrucae, are non-cancerous growths of the
skin caused by a virus which promotes rapid cell growth
in the outer layers of membranes and skin. Warts have
traditionally been considered highly contagious but
it is now known that it is genital warts which fall
into this category with other types of warts being much
There are different types of warts –
- Common warts are caused by some types of cutaneous
HPV. These generally occur on hands and feet, but
may also appear on elbows and knees. They have the
characteristic raised, cauliflower appearance that
we associate with skin warts and are most common among
children. Common warts may also occur in the genital
and anal area but these are not precursors to cancer.
- Flat warts mostly are found on the face, forehead
and arms and are also most common in teens and children.
They generally do not lead to cancer.
- Plantar warts occur on the soles of the feet. They
differ from other types of wart in that they grow
inward, which makes walking quite painful.
- Periungual or subungual warts are found around or
under the fingernail or on the cuticle of the nail.
They tend to be more difficult to treat than other
types of warts.
Are HPV symptoms dangerous?
It is possible to have the virus for some time before
displaying any symptoms; during this time you could
have been infecting other people. The longer you have
the virus, the higher the risk of developing cancer
Common warts are more inconvenient than dangerous although
if they bleed, they could become infected. These, with
other types of skin warts, are easily treated and, although
they may return, will eventually disappear.
Genital warts are a different story, however. Genital
warts may occur in the vagina, cervix, vulva or anus
in women and the penis, scrotum or anus in men. They
may also occur in the mouth area, including the lips
and throat. Genital warts may be flat or raised, smooth
or cauliflower-like; they could be too small to be seen
with the naked eye.
Several strains of HPV can cause
genital warts but 90% of cases are caused by HPV6 and
HPV11; these strains do not cause warts on other parts
of the body. Genital warts are extremely contagious
and may be spread through any contact with infected
genitals, not only through sexual intercourse. While
use of condoms helps to restrict infection, it is not
As a general rule, the strains of HPV that lead to
cancer do not produce the symptom of warts. However,
it is possible to be infected with several strains of
the virus at the same time, so the occurrence of genital
warts cannot rule out the existence of pre-cancerous
HPV6 and HPV11 can also cause the rare condition of
respiratory papillomavirus in which the warts occur
on parts of the respiratory tract, such as the larynx
or windpipe. This condition may require repeat surgical
procedures, can recur, could create breathing difficulties
and, rarely, lead to cancer.
Other rare symptoms may include itching of the genital
area, increased vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding
during or after intercourse, moisture in the area of
Does everyone infected with HPV get symptoms?
No. This is what makes it so difficult to contain the
virus. You could be infected for years and be unaware
that you have HPV. If you have multiple sexual partners,
you would be innocently spreading this contagious virus.
How do I know if I have HPV?
Unless you get an obvious symptom or sign, like warts,
you won't know unless you get tested. In women, this
– the abnormal cells caused by the virus
will be identified during your regular Pap test. This
is yet another excellent reason for making sure you
have this important test every year. It has been shown
that HPV is present in nearly every case of cervical
cancer, so the regular Pap test is the best means of
early detection of this cancer.
There is as yet no simple test for men to identify HPV
infection, although doctors are now recommending that
gay men have regular anal Pap tests to aid in early
identification of infection.