Human papillomavirus (“HPV”) is a group of viruses that is extremely common worldwide. Some types of HPV can cause health problems, ranging from benign issues like skin warts to life-threatening conditions including cervical cancer.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. In fact, it is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. In the U.S., an estimated 79 million persons are currently infected with HPV and there are 14 million new infections each year. In the majority of cases, HPV infections clear spontaneously and most people never realize they were infected. However, some infections persist, cause symptoms, and reactivate years after initial exposure.
There are more than 150 types of HPV. At least 13 types of HPV are considered cancer causing and are known as “high-risk” HPV types. Effective prophylactic vaccines exist to prevent HPV infection in women and men, however there are no effective antivirals to treat those already infected.
HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact and can cause normal cells on infected skin to turn abnormal. Different HPV types have a propensity to infect different body sites. For example, HPV types 6 and 11 have a tendency to infect the skin, causing skin warts on the hand and feet. Other HPV types, such as 16 and 18, specifically target mucus epithelium and can lead to abnormal cell proliferation and cancer.