You’ve likely heard this acronym before, but do you know how HPV may affect you?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, many people who contract the virus never know they have it because they don’t have any symptoms. So if it doesn’t cause any symptoms in many cases, do you still need to worry about it?

Here are answers to common questions that can better explain this virus and what may happen if you get it.

What happens if you get HPV?

There are more than 100 types of HPV infections. Some cause no symptoms at all, some cause warts that can appear on your genitals or other parts of your body and others may increase your risk of cervical cancer, as well as other cancers of the genitals, anus, mouth and upper respiratory tract.

How do you get HPV?

Most HPV infections are transmitted through sexual intercourse, anal sex or other skin-to-skin contact. They can also be transmitted through oral sex. Pregnant women may spread the infection to their babies. Both men and women can contract and spread HPV infections.

What are the risk factors for developing an HPV infection?

The more sexual partners you have, or the more sex partners your partners have, the more likely you are to get an HPV infection, especially if you have unprotected sex.  If you touch someone’s warts, you are also more likely to get infected. If your immune system is compromised, it increases your risk.

If you have HPV, does that mean you’ll likely get cervical cancer?

Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV but not all HPV infections cause cervical cancer. Only some strains of the virus increase your risk. But since this is the biggest risk factor for developing cervical cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccination (Gardasil) for girls and boys ages 11 to 12. At this age, the vaccine includes two doses, given at least six months apart. If vaccines aren’t started until age 15 or older, it is recommended that three doses of the vaccine be given. Vaccines are recommended for people up to age 26, if not given earlier. If you are older than that, talk to your doctor about whether you should still get the HPV vaccine.

Can you prevent HPV infection?

Getting vaccinated against HPV helps protect you from the HPV strains most likely to cause cancer, but it does not protect you from all strains of the virus. It’s hard to prevent HPV infections that cause common warts but you may be able to reduce your risk of developing genital warts from HPV infections by reducing the number of sex partners you have and using condoms.


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Date Last Reviewed: November 2, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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