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HPV or human papillomavirus is a group of more than 100 types of viruses that infects the cells on the surface of the skin, causing warts in various places of the body. These viruses may cause a mild infection that goes away on its own but some are capable of producing abnormal growths such as warts as well as cancerous tumors. Aside from surgery, laser therapy and topical application of various types of medications, interferon therapy may help in the treatment of HPV infection.
What is HPV?
HPV infection affects about 20 million Americans, mostly sexually active young and old adults. People who are most like to develop HPV infection are those who started having sex at a young age and those who have multiple sex partners or are having sex with another who has multiple sex partners. HPV can cause a wide range of skin lesions, including flat warts and cauliflower-shaped warts, which can be found in the hands, feet, vagina, anus, cervix, penis, mouth, throat, and other parts of the body. Others, however, develop malignant tumors in the cervix, anus, throat or esophagus, which may be related to HPV infection and other factors such as smoking, folate deficiency, and sexual behavior.
There is no cure for HPV infection but it usually goes away on its own. HPV-positive patients who do not have lesions or warts are often not treated. Treatment for HPV is often directed towards removal of visible warts or lesions in the cervix, in case of cervical disease. This includes medical and/or surgical methods, which may take multiple treatments over several weeks or months. Recurrence of infection is common, causing frustration among patients and doctors.
Pharmacological treatment of warts involves topical application of cytotoxic agents such as salicylic acid, trichloroacetic acid (TCA), or podofilox, and use of immune response modifiers such as imiquimod and interferon alfa.
How Interferon Works
Interferons are naturally occurring proteins (cytokines) produced by immune system cells to fight viruses. These have immune modulating effects as well as direct antiviral effects. Research suggests that interferons can help reduce recurrences of the disease. Scientists have synthesized these proteins to treat many conditions including melanoma, hepatitis C, leukemia, and more. There are different types of interferons and interferon alfa has been widely used in the US to treat genital warts.
Interferon alfa is injected into the base of the wart (intralesional) using a small needle. This is done for each wart three times a week for three weeks. There are no pills available for this drug, and unlike treatment for other disorders, it is not usually given systemically. A less common form of interferon is available in cream, which may be applied directly on the skin lesion.
Warts respond to treatment within four to eight weeks after initiation of treatment, but if they do not go away by 12 to 16 weeks, treatment may be repeated.