HPV, also known as the Human Papilloma Virus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States [1].

HPV is passed on by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus, hence why it’s considered an STI.

So, what is HPV? Let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding this virus.


Frequently Asked Questions



What Is HPV?


As one of the most common STIs in the world, most sexually active adults will carry the HPV virus at some point in their lives. Generally, the body’s immune system gets rid of the HPV infection naturally within a couple of years.

There are thought to be over 100 varieties of HPV - each are classified into ‘low-risk’ and ‘high risk’ strains [2].

What Are The Symptoms of HPV?

Most people with HPV don’t know they’re infected and many never develop any symptoms [3].

Low-risk strains of HPV can cause:

  • Genital Warts

  • Changes in the cells - these can sometimes develop into cancer

It’s possible that high-risk strains of HPV may cause:

  • Cancer of the Cervix

  • Cancer of the Vulva

  • Cancer of the Vagina

  • Cancer of the Penis

  • Cancer of the Anus

  • Cancer of the Throat - including the base of the tongue and tonsils

It’s important to note that cancer takes many years to develop after a person gets the HPV infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that about 10% of women with high-risk HPV on their cervix will develop long-lasting infections that could put them at risk of cervical cancer.


How Do You Get HPV?


HPV can be contracted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. It’s most commonly contracted through vaginal, oral and anal sex.

According to the CDC, anyone who is sexually active could contract HPV [4].


Is HPV An STI?


As HPV is acquired by skin-to-skin contact, it’s classified as an STI.

Can You Get HPV Non-Sexually?

HPV can’t be transmitted by being near or touching someone who has it - it must be an intimate interaction. There have been no documented cases of people getting HPV from hard surfaces, including toilet seats or food utensils [5].


Is HPV Infection Permanent?


Most people who get infected with HPV will clear the virus within a couple of years. However, for some people the infection will be long-lasting/persistent. .One study estimated that more than 90% of HPV infections are "cleared" by the body within two years [6].

Is HPV Curable?

If you test positive for HPV, there’s no treatment to get rid of the virus.

However, a healthy immune system will usually clear the infection within a few years and people may never know they were infected.

pap-smear-hpv


How Do You Lower The Risk Of Getting HPV?


The only way to completely prevent HPV infection is to avoid any sexual contact with another person, that includes vaginal, oral, and anal sex, and any other genital contact. However, this isn’t a realistic solution for many people.

Other ways to lower your risk of getting HPV include:

  • Using condoms and/or dental dams every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Limit your number of sexual partners
  • Don't smoke - this can decrease the body’s immune system from working effectively

Get the HPV Vaccine

It’s recommended that boys and girls receive the vaccine between ages 11 and 12 since it works best before they become sexually active.

However, some men and women aged 27 through 45 years who did not get vaccinated as children may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their healthcare provider about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination.




Can You Still Have Sex If You Have HPV?


There is no need to stop having sex with your partner if you test positive for HPV (unless your physician tells you otherwise).

It might seem irresponsible to consider having sex when you know you have HPV infection, but because HPV infection is so common, people should assume they’re having sex with someone who has the virus. If you’re concerned about symptoms (bleeding after intercourse, vaginal discharge or pelvic pain) you should discuss these with your healthcare provider.

Can A Woman Give A Man HPV?

If you have HPV infection, there is no way to completely prevent infecting your sexual partner even if you always use protection. The virus is located in skin cells, so HPV can infect genital areas not covered by a condom.

If you’re sexually active, there are things that you can do to decrease the risk of spreading the infection:

  • Get the HPV vaccine and encourage your partner to do the same

  • Use condoms and/or dental dams every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex

  • Limit your number of sexual partners


Can I Test For HPV From Home?


If don’t know your recent HPV status and you want to get checked to know for sure, it’s now possible to get checked from home.

With LetsGetChecked, you can test your sexual health status from the comfort of home. If you have any questions about our testing options, you can reach our team via live chat.


Browse Home HPV Tests


Written by Dr. Kelly Orzechowski | Edited by Hannah Kingston


References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Online: CDC.org, 2019
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic Information about HPV and Cancer. Online: CDC.org. 2018
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Online: CDC.org, 2019
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Online: CDC.org, 2019
  5. American Cancer Society, HPV and Cancer.Online: Cancer.org, 2017
  6. L. E. Markowitz, E. F. Dunne, M. Saraiya Et. al. Human Papillomavirus Vaccination: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014