HPV can manifest itself in a number of ways, but there are specific HPV symptoms that individuals who are sexually active should be aware of.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are more than 100 different strains of the virus that can cause benign tumors like warts (called papillomas) on different areas of the body. Of these numerous strains, about 30 are passed through sexual contact. Many people contract the virus and never know it because they don't develop symptoms.
The human papillomavirus can cause warts. Some strains cause them on the genitals, while others cause warts on the hands or feet. Genital warts may be flesh colored or pinkish, flat or raised, big or small, and can appear singly or in groups. Genital warts usually appear on the penis, scrotum, cervix, anus, groin or thigh. Genital warts do not usually hurt, but they can grow if left untreated.
Cervical Cancer: Two strains of HPV, referred to as 16 and 18, are responsible for more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. According to "Cancer Facts and Figures 2007," published by the American Cancer Society, approximately 11,150 women were expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007, and 3,670 women were expected to die as a result of cervical cancer that year.
Genital Warts: Two other strains, 6 and 11, are responsible for about 90 percent of all genital warts. Warts themselves are not dangerous, although they may cause some itching and discomfort, but the presence of HPV can increase the risk of cervical and other cancers.
Other Cancers: Studies have found that the presence of HPV can increase the risk of developing another form of cancer - oropharyngeal - which is found in the tonsils, soft palate and base of the tongue. There is additional evidence that suggests HPV may play a role in cancers of the penis, anus, vagina and vulva.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil, the first HPV vaccination available to the public, for protection against HPV strains 6, 11, 16 and 18 - the four strains that cause the majority of cervical cancers and genital warts. In June 2006 the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that the HPV vaccine be routinely administered to girls between the ages of 11 and 13. They also provided guidelines that allowed girls to get the vaccinations as early as age 9 and to get catch-up vaccinations up to the age of 26.
The vaccinations are most effective if administered prior to HPV exposure (i.e., before sexual activity). Age limits currently in place have been extensively researched; clinical trials for vaccinations for older women are ongoing. Gardasil should be administered in a series of three shots; the second dose should be given two months after the first, and the third dose six months after that.
The federal government does not mandate the use of vaccines; each state passes its own laws. Different schools also may have different vaccination requirements. As of June 2008, 17 states have enacted legislation that funds the vaccination, educates the public about the vaccination, or makes the vaccination a requirement. These states are Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington. Many other states have proposed legislation before their state's senate. For more information about each state's legislation status, go to the National Conference of State Legislator's Web site.
For more information about the HPV vaccine, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's comprehensive HPV Vaccine Q&A.