How Can I Tell If I Have HPV?

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HPV, or human papilloma virus, is the virus responsible for genital warts. HPV is transmitted by oral, vaginal and anal sex. There are at least 100 varieties of HPV, 40 of which can affect the genital area; and sometimes there are few noticeable symptoms. It's possible to have HPV and be unaware of its presence. Here are some warning signs that you may have HPV.

Unprotected Sex

If you are a female and have not been given the HPV vaccine, unprotected sex may lead to infection. There is currently no vaccine for males that will prevent infection from HPV, and any unprotected sex may lead to infection. If you had sex with a partner who showed outward signs of genital warts, it's possible you contracted the virus. However, genital warts are not always easy to spot, so getting a physician's diagnosis if you develop a wart is the only way to positively know if you have been infected.

Protect yourself from exposure to genital warts by getting the vaccine if you are a female between the ages of 12 and 26. Males should always wear condoms to avoid infection.

The Appearance of Warts

Oftentimes HPV presents itself in the form of genital warts. Wart colorations can be clear, pink, fleshy or brown. They might be lumpy, flat or round. Genital warts are generally located around the genitals or anus. The appearance of warts may indicate that you are carrying HPV. Check your body for the appearance of warts. Use a mirror to examine areas that are difficult to see.

(Other warts that might show up elsewhere on the body include plantar warts, which can show up on the bottom of your feet and will usually have black flecks, and flat warts, which can appear on the face, arms, legs and other areas of the body.)

Getting Tested

According to the CDC, about 1 percent of men who are sexually active are carrying the virus at any particular time, and 50 percent or more of sexually active people of both sexes will develop HPV at one time or another over their lifetime. The virus usually goes away on its own but is extremely infectious while present.

Because HPV can lead to cancer in both men and women, it is important that you are tested for symptoms of these diseases if you suspect you have the virus. There are currently no tests for HPV in the blood, but when symptoms such as genital warts are present, a doctor will be able to diagnose HPV. For a definitive diagnosis, see your doctor if you develop warts.

Treatment Methods

Over-the-counter treatment methods for warts usually involve putting a liquid or tab that contains salycylic, tricloracetic or bicloracetic acid on the wart and then covering it with a bandage. You may need to repeat treatment daily for two weeks or more to completely remove the wart.

Doctors can also perform cryotherapy (freezing), laser treatment or surgery on the area if necessary. This may involve local or general anesthesia. Podofilox, imiquimod and podophyllin are prescription topicals that you can apply to the wart for gradual removal. Because of the caustic nature of these medications, take precautions to avoid exposing the surrounding skin.

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