What are the symptoms of HPV as an STI?
While warts are the most common symptom of HPV, in most people, the body’s immune system will clear the virus naturally before the warts develop without treatment or other health problems occurring. In genital HPV types, this can mean that people who are infected may have passed the virus to their sexual partners unknowingly.
The level of infection and symptoms experienced depend on how long the virus is in the body. The longer you are infected, the higher your chance of further health issues developing such as cervical or anal cancer.
Research has shown that HPV related cancer can take between 10 and 30 years to develop.
Rarely, the virus can develop into severe health conditions such as warts forming in the throat as a result of engaging in oral sex with an infected person, this is known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). In more severe cases, the virus can result in cancer of the genitals, head and neck, tongue, tonsils and throat (oropharyngeal cancer).
The strains of the virus that cause cancer are different to the ones that cause genital warts. Therefore, if you have HPV genital warts it does not mean you will get cancer.
When warts appear, they often vary in their appearance which is dependent on the type of HPV infection. HPV warts are categorised as follows:
- Common warts which appear as raised and rough bumps on the hands, elbows or fingers. These types of warts are often painful and unsightly. They are also susceptible to bleeding and injury. These are highly contagious and can be spread through just touching the wart.
- Genital warts which are flat lesions, tiny upright protrusions or cauliflower-like bumps in the genital areas. They commonly appear on the vulva and can also form in the vagina, cervix and near the anus in women. In men, the warts will appear in the scrotum, penis and around the anus.
Genital warts do not cause itching or pain and are often so small that one may not even know they have them.
- Flat warts which are slightly raised bumps that are flat at the top and darker than the skin. These are common in children and tend to appear on their faces, with men they form in their beards and women on their legs.
- Plantar warts which are grainy and hard growths that normally appear on the balls of feet and heels, they can cause some discomfort.