Oh goodness, let's see what I can do to help clarify a cloudy situation. Let me start by saying that the best resource for information on HPV is the Center for Disease Control's website.
There are over 100 strains of HPV. More than 20 of them affect the genitals (vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, anus, mouth/throat). Of those 20+ strains, some are low risk HPV (and cause genital warts) and others are high risk HPV (hrHPV) and can lead to atypical cells (or dysplasia, or cancer - in the worst case scenario - of any of those body parts). There are OTHER types of HPV which cause warts that get on your hands, or face, or legs, etc. The strains of HPV that cause genital warts do not cause hand warts. The strains that cause hand warts do not cause genital warts. The strains that cause genital warts do not (as far as I've read) cause cancer. The strains that cause cancer do not cause genital warts.
Clear as mud yet?
The virus that causes genital warts is called HPV. There are just different strains that can cause GW. The viruses that cause dysplasia (cervical dysplasia is checked during a pap smear) is also HPV, they are just different strains from the ones that cause warts.
Most abnormal pap results are from tissue that has been negatively effected by HPV. So, dysplasia is usually (90+%
caused by HPV.
Clear as mud?
Here is the good news. Most people are able to fight HPV so that it doesn't cause damage (warts or dysplasia). However, not everyone can fight the virus. That is when warts are caused by low risk HPV. That's when dysplasia is caused by high risk HPV. Most people are able to "clear" the virus in about 2 years. The older a person is (more specifically, women over 30) are less likely to "clear" the virus.
Now, "clearing" the virus doesn't mean the virus is forever gone never to rear its ugly head. There is a lot of debate in the medical/research community as to what happens. The body *does* keep a record of having been exposed to HPV. There is disagreement as to whether the virus can be reactivated later in life and cause future problems. From what I've read, I'd say the likelihood is good.
How prevalent is HPV? The data I've read said that more than 80% of women over the age of 50 have been exposed to at least one strain of HPV in her lifetime. So, most sexually active people have been exposed to it, especially if he/she has had more than one sexual partner in his/her life (sexual partner could just be someone with whom he/she had sexual play, not just intercourse).
It is a lot of information. But, some of it is kind of vague. The body of information on HPV is growing. From what I can tell, there are a lot more studies about HPV now than there were even 10 or 15 years ago. So it makes sense there is more information.
I hope that helps.