Most infections by human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are `acute’, that is non-persistent. Yet, for HPVs, as for many other oncoviruses, there is a striking gap between our detailed understanding of chronic infections and our limited data on the early stages of infection. Here we argue that studying HPV acute infections is necessary and timely. Focusing on early interactions will help explain why certain infections are cleared while others become chronic or latent. From a molecular perspective, descriptions of immune effectors and pro-inflammatory pathways during the initial stages of infections have the potential to lead to novel treatments or to improved handling algorithms. From a dynamical perspective, adopting concepts from spatial ecology, such as meta-populations or meta-communities, can help explain why HPV acute infections sometimes last for years. Furthermore, cervical cancer screening and vaccines impose novel iatrogenic pressures on HPVs, implying that anticipating any viral evolutionary response remains essential. Finally, hints at the associations between HPV acute infections and fertility deserve further investigation given their high, worldwide prevalence. Overall, understanding asymptomatic and benign infections may be instrumental in reducing HPV virulence.
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