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Human papillomaviruses
Human papillomaviruses

What is HPV?

Human papillomaviruses (HPV/HP viruses) are non-enveloped viruses that are composed of genetic material and a protective protein envelope with a ring-shaped, double-stranded DNA genome. Because they have no metabolism of their own, the viruses need a host to survive. There are over 200 different types of HPV. This is why infections can develop into many different forms.

Experts believe that HPV infections are among the most common sexually transmitted infections. Some virus types can lead to harmless warts, others to malignant tissue changes (cancer) in the uterine cervix, labia, vulva, penis, anus, mouth and throat. A difference is thus made between low-risk HPV types and high-risk HPV types.

How is HPV transmitted?

During their lifetime, 80% of adults come into contact with HPV. The viruses occur worldwide in women as well as in men. They are transmitted directly from person to person, or indirectly through contact with contaminated objects or surfaces. Usually the immune system is strong enough to fight the pathogens, so an infection often goes unnoticed and without symptoms.

Many HP viruses are transmitted through normal skin contact, for example, harmless skin warts. Genital HPV types that can cause cervical cancer are transmitted through sexual and oral contact. In theory, non-sexual transmission is also possible, but very rare. Young people in particular, who frequently have various sex partners, are statistically infected more often. The incubation period can vary between two weeks and eight months.

What are symptoms of the disease?

The HP viruses can cause common skin warts (papillomas), benign genital warts (genital warts, candyomas) or, in serious cases, cell changes of the anus and sex organs (urogenital area), which can lead from cancer precursors to cancer.

Significance for infections in hospitals and in the outpatient sector

Since 2007, Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) has recommended vaccination against HPV for girls, and since June 2018, also for boys aged 9-14 years, ideally before onset of sexual contact. Overlooked immunization should be carried out by the age of 17. The basic hygiene measures must be followed when interacting with HPV patients. Within the framework of basic hygiene in health care facilities, virucidal disinfectants should be applied to medical devices that come into contact with mucous membranes. The polyomavirus SV40, as a surrogate for papillomaviruses, is used for testing virucidal disinfectants.

Survival time of pathogens on inanimate surfaces

More than 7 days

Disinfectant effectiveness for prevention

The required spectrum of activity against HP viruses: virucidal

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