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Though Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is usually harmless to a carrier, it can potentially lead to serious illness and even death. Low-risk effects of the virus include painless genital warts or lesions, which may disappear on their own. Sexually transmitted disease and cervical cancer are the most common high-risk effects of HPV. As there is no cure for the virus, those who do see symptoms of HPV can suffer recurrences indefinitely.
Most low-risk HPV infections disappear without medical intervention. On many occasions, the carrier may not even be aware of the infection. Less serious strains of HPV can manifest themselves as painless genital warts, also known as flat warts or lesions. These may or may not require medical attention, depending on whether they grow and multiply or disappear on their own.
HPV can be transmitted sexually, sometimes without either partner being aware that one or both are carrying the virus. This is why it is suggested that women over 30 in particular get an annual pap test for the virus. There is not yet an HPV test for men, though there are treatments for the effects of the virus. As there is no cure for HPV, the virus can be a lasting social stigma for a sexually active carrier. Genital HPV can also lead to some of the more high-risk strains of the virus.
The kind of HPV strains that cause a high-risk infection can have a serious and even deadly effect on a carrier. If left untreated, it can lead to cancer. HPV is the top cause of cervical cancer, though only one percent of women who have the virus will get the disease. Suffering the effects of HPV is an even smaller risk for men, who could contract penis cancer from the virus. There is also a small potential for anal and oral cancer among men and women due to HPV.
The effects of HPV are riskier for people who have compromised immune systems, as they possess lower than average resources to fight the virus. This includes patients infected by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Special care must be taken to screen these individuals for HPV.
The vaccine Gardasil® was developed with the initial goal of protecting individuals from suffering the more aggressive effects of HPV. It was originally administered to young girls, as studies had proven that the vaccine was effective on that age group. As scientists learned more about the effect of the vaccine, older women and men began to be added to the list of suggested vaccine recipients. The vaccine is being continually developed with the goal of eventually warding off all strains of HPV.