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Infectious Diseases in Obstetrics and Gynecology
Volume 2006 (2006), Article ID 40470, 5 pages
http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/IDOG/2006/40470
Clinical Study

Epidemiology and Natural History of Human Papillomavirus Infections in the Female Genital Tract

Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta 30303, GA, USA

Received 28 November 2005; Accepted 30 November 2005

Copyright © 2006 Kevin A. Ault. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Abstract

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common newly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Although the majority of sexually active adults will be infected with HPV at least once in their lives, it is sexually active women less than 25 years of age who consistently have the highest rates of infection. Besides youth and gender, common risk factors for HPV infection and clinical sequelae of infection include high number of sexual partners and coinfection with Chlamydia trachomatis or herpes simplex virus. Most HPV infections are cleared by the immune system and do not result in clinical complications. Clinical sequelae in cases of low-risk HPV infection consist of genital warts, and clinical manifestations of high-risk HPV infection include abnormal Pap test results, low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (LSIL), high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions (HSIL), and cervical cancer. LSIL, HSIL, and cervical cancer carry significant morbidity and/or mortality; genital warts and abnormal Pap test results are often significant sources of psychosocial distress. Currently, there are neither effective means of preventing HPV transmission nor cures for clinical manifestations: infection can only be prevented via complete sexual abstinence, while treatment for clinical sequelae such as genital warts and cytologic abnormalities consists of removing the problematic cells and watching for recurrence; this method consumes significant health care resources and is costly. New prophylactic HPV vaccines promise to dramatically reduce the incidence of HPV infection, genital warts, and cytologic abnormalities.