Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet
What is genital HPV infection?
Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it.
HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems.
What are the signs, symptoms and potential health problems of HPV?
Most people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from it. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.
* But sometimes, certain types of HPV can cause genital warts in males and females. Rarely, these types can also cause warts in the throat — a condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis or RRP.
* Other HPV types can cause cervical cancer. These types can also cause other, less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck (tongue, tonsils and throat).
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer. There is no way to know which people who get HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.
Signs and symptoms of HPV-related problems:
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Health care providers can diagnose warts by looking at the genital area during an office visit. Warts can appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected partner—even if the infected partner has no signs of genital warts. If left untreated, genital warts might go away, remain unchanged, or increase in size or number. They will not turn into cancer.
Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular screening for cervical cancer. Screening tests can find early signs of disease so that problems can be treated early, before they ever turn into cancer.
Other HPV-related cancers might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat. These include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck. For signs and symptoms of these cancers, see
Facts About HPV
HPV stands for human papillomavirus (pronounced pap ah LO mah), but there are actually more than 100 related viruses in this group. Each HPV virus is given a number or type. The term “papilloma” refers to a kind of wart that results from some HPV types.
HPV lives in the body’s epithelial cells. These are flat and thin cells found on the skin’s surface and also on the surface of the vagina, anus, vulva, cervix, penis head, mouth, and throat.
Of the 100 HPV types, about 60 types cause warts on areas such as the hands or feet. The other 40 or so types of HPV are sexually transmitted and are drawn to the body’s mucous membranes, such as the moist layers around the anal and genital areas.
How HPV Spreads
These sexually-transmitted HPV viruses are spread through contact with infected genital skin, mucous membranes, or bodily fluids, and can be passed through intercourse and oral sex. HPV can infect skin not normally covered by a condom, so using a condom does not fully protect you from the virus. Also, many people don’t realize they’re infected with HPV and may have no symptoms, so neither sexual partner may realize that the virus is being spread.
You’re more likely to get HPV if you
* Have sex at an early age
* Have many sex partners
* Have a sex partner who has had multiple partners
Reducing the Risk of Getting HPV
The only way to absolutely avoid the risk of HPV infection is to abstain from sex. You can also limit the number of sexual partners you have. And you can choose partners who’ve had few or no sexual partners before you. However, while a long-term monogamous relationship lowers your risk, it’s important to remember that many people are infected and never know it.