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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

 

Human Papillomavirus and Genital Warts

OVERVIEW

Human papillomavirus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. Health experts estimate there are more cases of genital HPV infection than any other STI in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6.2 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year. At least 20 million people in this country are already infected.

Genital warts

Genital warts (sometimes called condylomata acuminata or venereal warts) are the most easily recognized sign of genital HPV infection. Many people, however, have a genital HPV infection without genital warts.

Genital warts are soft, moist, or flesh colored and appear in the genital area within weeks or months after infection. They sometimes appear in clusters that resemble cauliflower-like bumps, and are either raised or flat, small or large. Genital warts can show up in women on the vulva and cervix, and inside and surrounding the vagina and anus. In men, genital warts can appear on the scrotum or penis. There are cases where genital warts have been found on the thigh and groin.

CAUSE

More than 100 different types of HPV exist, most of which are harmless. About 30 types are spread through sexual contact and are classified as either low risk or high risk. Some types of HPV cause genital warts-single or multiple bumps that appear in the genital areas of men and women including the vagina, cervix, vulva (area outside of the vagina), penis, and rectum. These are considered low risk types. High-risk types of HPV may cause abnormal Pap smear results and could lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Many people infected with HPV have no symptoms.

Some types of HPV cause common skin warts, such as those found on the hands and soles of the feet. These types of HPV do not cause genital warts.

TRANSMISSION

Genital warts are very contagious. You can get them during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with an infected partner. You can also get them by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or (rarely) oral sex with someone who is infected. About two-thirds of people who have sexual contact with a partner with genital warts will develop warts, usually within 3 months of contact.

In women, the warts occur on the outside and inside of the vagina, on the opening to the uterus (cervix), or around the anus.

In men, genital warts are less common. If present, they usually are seen on the tip of the penis. They also may be found on the shaft of the penis, on the scrotum, or around the anus.

Rarely, genital warts also can develop in your mouth or throat if you have oral sex with an infected person.

Like many STIs, genital HPV infections often do not have signs and symptoms that can be seen or felt. One study sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) reported that almost half of women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. If you are infected but have no symptoms, you can still spread HPV to your sexual partner and/or develop complications from the virus.


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August 2006

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Useful Links:

www.obgyn.net - the Universe of Women's health
www.nlm.nih.gov - The US National Library of Medicine
www.med.uni-giessen.de/eago - European Association Of Gynecologists and Obstetricians
www.libov.com - Women's Health Hot Line
Yahoo! Health - a comprehensive directory of web sites related to health
www.oncolink.com - University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center

 

 

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