HPV Causes: Facts About the Human Papilloma Virus

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Story at-a-glance -

  • With most sexually active males and females being exposed to it at some point in their lives, there definitely are a lot of questions (and sometimes misconceptions) surrounding the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • There are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of acquiring the infection. Read more to find out what causes HPV

Given that it’s the most widespread sexually transmitted infection today — with most sexually active males and females being exposed to it at some point in their lives — there definitely are a lot of questions (and sometimes misconceptions) surrounding the human papillomavirus (HPV). This article will discuss facts about the virus itself and how it impacts your body.

Basic Information About the Virus

Not to be confused with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and herpes, human papillomaviruses are small, double-strand DNA viruses that can infect “stratified epithelium.”1 The virus lives in the top layer of your skin — not in your bloodstream or spinal cord, and certainly not in your internal organs.2

“Epithelium” refers to the cellular covering found in the external and internal surfaces of the body, which include small cavities and small vessels. It is classified in different types, depending on the shape of the cells and the numbers of layers. Stratified epithelium, in particular, refers to epithelium that is composed of cells that are arranged in layers.3 To further describe the biologic properties of the virus, a paper from University of Rio Grande do Norte researchers explains:4

“The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a relatively small non-enveloped virus that contains a double-stranded closed circular DNA genome, associated with histone-like proteins and protected by a capsid formed by two late proteins, L1 and L2. Each capsid is composed of 72 capsomeres, each of which is composed of five monomeric of 55kDa units that join to form a pentamer corresponding to the major protein capsid, L1.”

There are over 200 different types of HPV, most of which are relatively harmless.5 Every HPV virus strain is given a corresponding number, which is called its “type.”6

The human papilloma virus can infect basal epithelial skin cells, as well as inner-lining tissues. These are categorized either as cutaneous types or mucosal types. Cutaneous HPV types are epidermotropic, meaning they infect the keratinized skin surface, and usually affect the skin on the hands and feet. Mucosal HPV types are those that can infect the mouth, throat and respiratory or anogenital tract.7 According to the Portuguese research paper above, HPV infections are:

“[C]hronic, exclusively local and intraepithelial in which the virus remains in the host for many months, even years, during which the mechanisms of host defense apparently remains ignorant of the pathogen for long period [sic] of time.”8

Even so, most HPV infections resolve without causing any harm or symptoms. Nine out of 10 infected individuals are cleared of the infection within a couple of years, thanks to their immune system.9

These Factors Can Make You More Susceptible to the Human Papillomavirus

While getting HPV is common among the general population, there are certain risk factors that can increase some people’s chance of acquiring the infection. These are:10,11,12,13,14

Age. Children are more susceptible to common warts, while genital warts are most often seen in teens and young adults.

Early age of sexual debut. Earlier sexual activity allows more exposure to HPV, thus increasing the risk of acquiring it.

Number of sexual partners. A person with multiple sexual partners has a higher risk of getting a genital HPV infection. Having sexual intercourse with a person who has had numerous sexual partners during his or her life can also heighten your risk.

Oral contraceptive use. Women who use oral contraceptives have been shown to be more susceptible to HPV infection.

Coinfection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HPV and HIV interact with each other in a way that makes it opportunistic for both to favor infection for the other at the cellular level.

Nonpenetrative intimate skin-to-skin sexual contact. Studies have shown that HPV infection risk increases with each new intimate partner, even with a male condom, and even with nonpenetrative sexual contact.

Smoking. Many studies show that cigarette smoking is associated with the high-risk HPVs 18 and 18.

Weakened immune system. HIV or AIDS patients, who have weakened immune systems, are more prone to this type of infection. Those who use immune-suppressing drugs, such as after an organ transplant, may also be at a higher risk.

Damaged skin. Broken or punctured skin gives the virus better entry into your body.

Physical contact. Touching another person’s warts or going to places where there’s a risk of exposure to HPVs that cause warts, like swimming pools or public showers, might increase your chances of being infected.

MORE ABOUT HPV

HPV: Introduction

What Is HPV?

Oral HPV

How Is HPV Transmitted?

HPV Vaccine

HPV in Men

HPV in Women

HPV Types

HPV Causes

HPV Symptoms

HPV Warts

HPV Treatment

HPV Test

How to Get Rid of HPV

Living with HPV

Does HPV Go Away?

How Do You Get HPV?

Is HPV Curable?

Is HPV Contagious?

How Long Does HPV Last?

HPV FAQ

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