HPV, also known as the Human Papilloma Virus, is a collection of viruses that affect the skin. There are over 100 types of Human Papilloma Virus.

It is passed on through vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus. In most cases it is transmitted through sexual skin to skin contact, but can also spread through the use of sex toys, which is why it’s considered a Sexually Transmitted Infection.

A person can carry HPV and have no symptoms whatsoever. The virus can also cause genital warts and in more serious circumtances, it can cause cancer. For a more detailed look at how the virus is contracted read our additional article How Do You Get HPV.

For concerns related to HPV and Cervial Cancer, we have a female HPV Test
, to help detect some of the high risk strands of the virus.


Frequently Asked Questions



What Are The Symptoms of HPV?


As one of the most common STIs in the world, sexually active adults are very likely to carry HPV at some point in their lives. Generally, the body’s immune system gets rid of the HPV infection naturally within a couple of years. But this is not the case for everyone, so do not assume that transmitting the virus is harmless. Whilst it's apparent that people can be infected and many never develop symptoms, other's can can become seriously ill [1].

  • Warts

In most cases there are no symptoms of low risk HPV strains. Warts however and more likely genital warts, can be a sign of the virus.

Warts on the hands, elbows, feet, the neck and face are a common symptom of HPV and should be checked out by a medical professional. The virus may have been sexually transmitted in these cases, but there are occasions when common warts are not a result of sexual transmission and may not be HPV related.

Genital warts however (different to common warts), are a clear symptom of the sexually transmitted disease. They appear as single skin bumps or a cluster of bumps and are often likened to cauliflower in texture.

They can appear in and around your sexual organs, anus and around the groin area under the pubic hair.

It’s possible that high-risk strains of HPV may cause the following cancers[2]:

  • 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. Each type will have a different set of symptoms and therefore should be investigated independently to common HPV symptoms through a medical professional. 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. So we recommend you take regular tests if you are sexually active.


How Is The Virus Treated?


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. One study estimated that more than 90% of HPV infections are "cleared" by the body within two years [3]. But for some people the infection can be long-lasting & persistent.

Warts can be removed from the skin, but that does not cure the virus. There are a number of surgical options for removing warts:

  • Cryotherapy, where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the skin and kill the wart
  • Electrocautery, where an electrical current is used to burn skin
  • Laser, where a beam burns the skin tissue
  • Or surgical removal, where the wart is cut away

All of the above should be administered by a medical professional.


How Do You Lower The Risk Of Getting HPV?


Its practically impossoblle to prevent HPV infection if you are sexually active. To completely avoid contracting the virus you would need to obstain from sexual contact with another person. This includes vaginal, oral & anal sex and any other genital contact. Naturally, this isn’t a realistic solution for many people. Sharing sex toys also increases the risk of contracting the virus.

To lower your risk of getting HPV we recommend:

  • 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

The HPV Vaccine

The vaccine can prevent you from contracting some of the higher risk viruses that are linked to cancer, but it does not cover the entire spectrum of HPV [4].

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

Adults can also obtain the vaccine under the guidance of a medical professional.


Can You Still Have Sex If You Have HPV?


If you have the 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.

Therefore its unlikely people will stop having sex if they test positive for HPV (unless your physician tells you otherwise).

It might seem irresponsible to consider having sex when you know you have the infection. But it is now widely regarded that the infection is so common, people might assume the person they’re having sex with already has it. You should be practicing safe sex regardless of the assumptions and there is no sure way to prevent contracting HPV.

If you’re concerned about symptoms (bleeding after intercourse, vaginal discharge or pelvic pain) you should discuss these with your healthcare provider.


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. American Cancer Society, HPV and Cancer.Online: Cancer.org, 2017
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Online: CDC.org, 2019
  4. 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