Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat.
HPV can cause serious health problems, including genital warts and certain cancers. There is no certain way to tell who will develop health problems from HPV and who will not. In most cases HPV goes away by itself before it causes any health problems, and 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). Both viruses can be passed on during sex, but they have different symptoms and cause different health problems.
Anyone who is having (or has ever had) sex can get HPV. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women get it at some point in their lives. This is true even for people who only have sex with one person in their lifetime.
HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners—even when the infected person has no signs or symptoms.
Most infected persons do not realize they are infected, or that they are passing HPV on to a sex partner. A person can still have HPV, even if years have passed since he or she has had sexual contact with an infected person. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.
In rare circumstances, a pregnant woman with genital HPV can pass the HPV on to her baby during delivery.
Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems. Most HPV infections (90%) go away by themselves within two years. But, sometimes, HPV infections will persist and can cause a variety of serious health problems. Health problems that can be caused by HPV include
All cases of genital warts and RRP, and nearly all cases of cervical cancer, are caused by HPV. A subset of cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis, and oropharynx, are caused by HPV.
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. Healthcare providers can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area. 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. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.
Cervical cancer usually does not cause 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 cancers caused by HPV might not have signs or symptoms until they are advanced and hard to treat. Other HPV-associated cancers include some cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx.
RRP is a condition in which warts grow in the throat. RRP can occur in children (juvenile-onset) and adults (adult-onset). These growths can sometimes block the airway, causing a hoarse voice or trouble breathing.
In most cases the virus goes away and it does not lead to any health problems. However, when the virus persists, or does not go away, HPV can cause normal cells to become abnormal and, most of the time you cannot see or feel these cell changes.
There is no certain way to know which people infected with HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems. However, persons with weak immune systems (including persons with HIV) may be less able to fight off HPV and more likely to develop health problems from it.
HPV (the virus): Approximately 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
Genital warts: About 360,000 persons in the U.S. get genital warts each year.
Cervical cancer: About 10,300 women in the U.S. get cervical cancer each year.
Other cancers that can be caused by HPV, including some vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers: Each year in the U.S., HPV is thought to cause an estimated
*Note: Other factors, notably tobacco and alcohol use, may also play a role with HPV to cause these cancers.
About 21,000 of these cancers are potentially preventable by HPV vaccines.
Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) is very rare. It is estimated that about 820 children get juvenile-onset RRP every year in the U.S.
HPV is a different virus than HIV, and causes different health problems. HPV does not live in the blood cells, but rather lives on the skin. Also, whereas HIV can lead to AIDS, genital HPV can lead to genital warts and certain types of cancer. However, persons with HIV are more likely to get HPV and to develop health problems from HPV. This is especially true for anal cancer.
Women who are pregnant can get infected with HPV. Usually these infections do not cause any problems. But sometimes
HPV tests are available to help screen women aged 30 years and older for cervical cancer. These HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years. There is no general HPV test for men or women to check one's overall "HPV status." Also, there is not an approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat.
There are several ways that people can lower their chances of getting HPV:
Yes, there are different prevention strategies for different health problems caused by HPV. HPV vaccines can prevent many diseases and cancers caused by HPV. In addition to vaccination, there are other ways to lower the risk of health problems caused by HPV.
A person can lower their risk of
There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause: