Can you cure HPV once you have it?

There is no cure for an existing HPV infection – HPV (human papillomavirus) is the name given to a group of over 100 related viruses, which is the most common sexually transmitted disease globally (and the second most common in the UK). There is currently no cure for an existing HPV infection, but for most people it would be cleared by their own immune system and there are treatments available for the symptoms it can cause.You can also get the HPV vaccine to protect yourself against new infections of HPV which can cause genital warts or cancer.

Why don’t antibiotics work? – HPV is a viral infection, which cannot be treated by medication designed for bacterial infections. There are currently no antiviral medications that have been clinically approved to treat HPV.

Can you get rid of HPV warts?

Yes it is possible to get rid of the symptoms – genital warts appear when a low-risk HPV infection causes abnormal changes in the skin cells, which develop into painless fleshy growths. While there is no cure for a HPV infection, there are a number of methods available to treat its symptoms, which include:

Topical treatments – prescribed creams and liquid solutions such as Warticon and Condyline contain podophyllotoxin, which is a plant extract that has antiviral properties. These treatments are applied directly to the wart, and work by suppressing the virus and preventing it from spreading and multiplying. Eventually the cells in the wart will die and will be replaced by new skin tissue. You can order topical treatments for genital warts online from Superdrug Online Doctor. 

Cryotherapy – visible warts can be frozen off using liquid nitrogen. A doctor will apply nitrogen directly to the wart, which may cause a mild to moderate burning sensation during the treatment. Afterwards the skin on and around the wart will blister, which will dry up and heal over the course of 7-14 days. The wart may fall off during this time, though some warts may need more than one treatment to fully remove.

Acid – trichloroacetic acid can be used to treat visible warts, and is applied directly to the wart by a doctor or other trained medical professional. The acid is used to burn off the growth by destroying the proteins in the cells of the wart. This process is repeated weekly until the wart is completely gone, which can take between 6-10 weeks. This can be used for pregnant patients where other treatments are not safe.

Surgical removal – visible genital warts may be removed by excision, meaning that the warts are surgically removed. After the wart is removed, the skin will then be stitched back together to close the incision. It can take between 2-4 weeks for these incisions to fully heal, and could potentially result in permanent scars. Surgical removal of warts is typically a last resort if other forms of treatment do not work.

Electrocautery – genital warts can be burned off using a low-voltage electrical probe, and anaesthetic is usually applied to manage pain during the procedure. If there are a large number of warts, it may be necessary to be put under anaesthetic so you’re not awake for the procedure. This method of wart removal usually takes 2-4 weeks to heal, though it may take longer if there was a lot of tissue that was burned off.

Laser removal – genital warts can also be treated with lasers, which pulses the wart with light. The light from the laser heats up the red blood cells in the wart and destroys them, depriving the wart of blood and eventually killing it. Laser removal can cause mild pain, though anaesthetic is generally not required, and it takes 2-4 weeks for the skin to heal afterwards. Laser removal is a relatively new method of getting rid of warts, so it’s not known how effective it is in comparison to other methods of wart removal.

Do not use over-the-counter treatments for genital warts – home treatments that you can buy from pharmacies and retailers, such as Superdrug, are designed to treat warts and verrucas that are not on the genitals. Attempts to use these treatments to remove genital warts may result in your symptoms getting worse, or could even cause permanent damage to the genital area. If you want to receive treatment for genital warts, please contact a healthcare professional rather than trying to remove them yourself.

Can you get rid of HPV flare-ups altogether?

Not without getting rid of the infection – treatments to remove genital warts may be effective in temporarily removing growths, but these forms of removal do not treat the underlying HPV infection that cause the warts to develop. This means that genital warts may flare up again, even after removal. The only way to permanently stop flare-ups of genital warts is to wait for the immune system to clear the HPV infection entirely.

How often do people normally get flare-ups? – genital warts that have been removed, or those that go away without any treatment, may flare-up again after several months if the HPV infection causing the flare ups has not been cleared by the immune system yet.

How can I avoid flare-ups of genital warts? – there's no evidence that HPV has triggers like herpes or asthma that cause flare ups, but many believe that a weakened immune system can lead to outbreaks being more likely. Genital warts are more likely to flare-up if your immune system is not able to effectively fight the HPV infection causing them to appear.

Can HPV go away on its own?

HPV can clear up naturally – as there is no cure for the underlying HPV infection, the only way to get rid of HPV is to wait for the immune system to clear the virus naturally. 90% of new HPV infections will clear up or become undetectable on their own within two years, and most of these infections will actually clear up in the first 6 months. Long-term infections of high-risk types of HPV, which have the potential to cause cancer, are estimated to occur in only 1% of those infected.

Stronger immune systems may clear HPV quicker – there are lifestyle changes you can make to help boost your immune system, such as dietary changes and exercise, which may have an effect on your body’s ability to clear a HPV infection. However, these lifestyle changes have not been clinically proven to have any direct impact on HPV infection rates or how long it takes the virus to be cleared by the immune system.

Smoking can negatively impact your recovery time – smoking tobacco reduces the immune system’s ability to clear the virus, meaning that existing HPV infections will take longer to clear naturally. Smoking also increases the chance that you will develop long term health complications as a result of HPV, such as genital warts and cancer. Stopping smoking is the only lifestyle change which is proven to have a positive effect on the immune system’s ability to clear infections of both low-risk and high-risk types of HPV.

Can the HPV vaccine cure HPV?

The HPV vaccine cannot cure existing infections – the HPV vaccine is able to prevent future infections of high-risk types of HPV that can cause cancer, and a number of low-risk types that can develop into genital warts. The HPV vaccine is a preventative measure, meaning it can stop future HPV infections, but it cannot kill the virus if you have already been infected. You can get the HPV vaccine at any Superdrug Health Clinic.

The HPV vaccine cannot cause genital warts – the HPV vaccine is not a live vaccine, which means it doesn’t contain any of the live virus. As the vaccine does not expose your body to the live virus, the HPV vaccine cannot cause you to become infected with HPV or lead to genital warts in the future.

Is there any research into cures for HPV?

Yes, there is ongoing research into developing a cure for HPV – while the HPV vaccine has been greatly effective in stopping the spread of certain types of HPV, there is currently no cure for existing HPV infections. Research into developing a HPV cure is showing promising initial results, but it is still in its early stages. At the time this page was published (12/10/2018), research being undertaken includes:

Drug development – ongoing research at the University of Leeds and the University of Birmingham into how HPV infections occur have led to the identification of a specific protein known as STAT3, which allows HPV to infect cells and replicate, and the individual enzymes that activates the protein. By identifying these proteins and enzymes that enables the spread of HPV, scientists can develop drugs that can specifically target them and prevent HPV from infecting other cells.

There are also ongoing clinical trials to prove the effectiveness of lopimune, which is a combination of the antiviral HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, in treating existing HPV infections. Trials carried out in Kenya have shown very promising results so far: after one year, 82% of patients were HPV-negative. The drug is now currently in phase II of clinical trials in the UK.

Therapeutic vaccine – the current HPV vaccine is preventative, meaning it can protect against future HPV vaccinations but cannot treat an existing infection. A therapeutic vaccine works in a similar way to preventative vaccines, but instead it stimulates the immune system to fight an existing infection. There is ongoing clinical trials to develop a therapeutic vaccine for HPV, which will allow for better control of HPV infections and the health complications they can cause.