What do I need to know about HPV?
You may have heard about HPV – or the human papillomavirus. It’s mostly spread through sexual intercourse, genital skin-to-skin contact and oral sex. And it’s very common. In fact, it’s more common than all other sexually transmitted infections combined!
HPV is not spread by casual contact, such as hugging, shaking hands, sneezing or coughing. HPV is also not spread through air, food or water.
What is HPV exactly?
HPV is a group of more than 100 different types of viruses. More than 40 types of HPV are spread through sexual contact. These types can infect the genital areas of both women and men, including the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus and penis, as well as some parts of the mouth and throat.
How do I know if I have HPV?
About 75% of sexually active men and women will get at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. Most of them will never know they’ve been infected because HPV often doesn’t cause any symptoms. This makes it hard to know exactly when or how the virus was spread.
Most HPV infections come and go over the course of a few years. While an HPV infection can’t be treated, the conditions it causes (such as genital warts) can.
For most people, the virus will clear in the same way as a common cold virus. HPV that doesn’t clear is what can lead to cancer.
Researchers are learning more and more about how this infection is linked to several types of cancer. There is now a vaccine available to protect against HPV infection.
Watch one woman’s powerful story as she learns about HPV and cancer
Explore related articles