Wart viruses are found all over the world. They are so small that almost as many could assemble on a matchhead as people live on the earth. But their ability to cause disease on skin and mucous membranes among humans and animals is all the greater. Of importance to humans is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), of which more than 70 representatives are known. These are transmitted through direct contact during intercourse or through minor skin injuries. HPV is best known as a trigger of cervical cancer, but the virus can also cause other diseases.
Papillomaviruses cause growths
The human papillomaviruses smuggle into the cells of the covering tissue of the skin and mucous membrane, settle down in the cell nuclei domestically and multiply there. They produce warts, ie growths that are mostly benign, but can also degenerate. Depending on how great this risk is, one divides the representatives into "low-risk types" and "high-risk types".
Where the papillomavirus feels good
In principle, all parts of the body where the skin or mucous membrane is located can be affected. Predominantly in children, "cutaneous types" are at fault, ie viruses that infect the skin. They like to settle on their hands and feet, but also their face, arms and legs are not spared.
The other large group of "mucosal types" mainly infects the mucous membranes, usually in the genital or anal region. Genital HPV infections are among the most commonly sexually transmitted infections.
Symptoms of papillomavirus infection
The symptoms of HPV infection differ depending on the type of infection.
Nipples usually occur in groups and can be further sown by scratching. In the two most common forms they are either greyish, hard, raised with a fissured surface (Verruca vulgaris = "common wart") or flat and reddish (Verruca plana = flat wart). Plantar warts (Verucca plantaris) are found under the sole of the foot, grow inwards and are therefore often painful.
The genital warts (Condylomata acuminata) like it moist and warm and therefore settle especially in the anus and sexual environment, but also in other body folds. Several forms are distinguished, which have different pathogens:
- Pointed condylomas are pale or reddish nodules, which like to stand in groups and find themselves on labia, vagina, cervix, penis, urethra, anal canal and rectum. They are very infectious.
- Flat condylomas (condylomata plana) are found mainly on the female sex organs. They increase the risk of cervical cancer up to 130 times.
- Giant condylomas (Condylomata gigantea = Buschke-Löwenstein tumors) grow into huge structures, destroying the surrounding tissue. In rare cases, they can degenerate (squamous cell carcinoma).
More difficult to grasp are invisible infections of the skin, which the doctor can only see with aids such as acetic acid or the microscope.
In addition, the virus may have already lodged in the cells without showing any tissue changes. Then only the virus itself can be detected and one speaks of a latent infection, ie the presence of pathogens, but no symptoms. After the initial infection, this phase can take weeks to months.
HPV: treatment of the infection
There is currently no means by which the papillomaviruses (HPV) are destroyed themselves. However, the treatment of warts reduces the number of viruses, so that in many cases the immune system can eradicate the rest. In some cases the pathogens survive and can cause symptoms again and again.
Various methods are used, which depend on the size, spread and localization of the warts. They can be treated by means of cold treatment, electrocoagulation, laser therapy or chemical agents such as trichloroacetic acid, podophyllin or 5-fluorouracil. Surgical removal is sometimes necessary.
It is currently being investigated how far immunotherapy promises success. For genital warts, the partner should also be examined and, if necessary, treated.
Prognosis and prevention
The prognosis depends mainly on the type of pathogen and its spread. It is usually good, except for giant condyloma and the cases in which cancer develops.
To prevent HPV infection - and in particular the development of cervical cancer as a consequence - an HPV vaccine is available.