The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. Genital warts is one form of sexually transmitted HPV. These warts can spread to the mouth and throat during oral sex with an infected person, or from an infected mother to her baby during childbirth.
At least half of sexually active people will get HPV at some point, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, the body's immune system can fight off most forms of HPV within two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, many people never show symptoms and thus never know that they have the disease.
There are two main types of HPV: high-risk and low-risk. The low-risk forms of HPV can cause small, flesh-colored or gray bumps or larger, cauliflower-like warts on the genitals, anus, perineum (area between the testicles or vagina and anus) and thighs, if the virus is spread through sexual intercourse, or in the mouth and throat if the virus is spread through oral sex.
The high-risk forms of HPV can lead to genital cancers such as cervical cancer. A study by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School has linked oral HPV infections to a rare throat cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Symptoms of this disease may not show up until late in its progression, but include bloody nasal discharge, congestion in one nostril, frequent ear infections and hearing loss, double vision, swollen lymph node in the neck, headache and pain in the face and neck.
Genital warts can pass from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth. Signs of infection include bumps or warts inside the child's throat. If the genital warts in the baby's throat are not removed, they may lead to a blocked airway, making it difficult for the baby to breathe.
Prevention and Treatment
Abstaining from sex, remaining faithful to one's partner or at least reducing your number of sex partners are all ways to avoid HPV infection. Condoms may reduce the chance of infection during vaginal, anal or oral sex, but HPV can still spread through contact with the perineum, scrotum and thighs. Low-risk forms of HPV, including genital warts in the throat, will usually go away on their own, but can be treated with surgery or medication if the warts cause pain. Nasopharyngeal cancer is treated with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.