STIS and HIV
HPV (Genital Warts)
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. HPV is the name of a group of viruses that include more than 100 different types. Thirty of the HPV strains are believed to be sexually transmitted.
HPV infection may cause:
- visible genital warts
- subclinical (unseen) or latent infection
- cervical dysplasia (changes on the cervix) which may sometimes lead to cervical cancer
How Do You Get HPV?
HPV is usually spread by direct, skin-to-skin contact such as during vaginal or anal sex with someone who is infected with HPV. Very rarely, babies are exposed by an infected birth parent through birth.
HPV can be spread even if you don’t see any warts. Sometimes HPV causes very subtle changes on the skin that are difficult to see with the naked eye. HPV can also live on the skin without causing any warts at all.
Genital warts or cervical dysplasia may appear within several weeks after sex with an infected person or may take months to years to appear or may never appear. This makes it difficult to know exactly when or from whom you got the virus.
What are Genital Warts?
Genital warts are growths or bumps that appear on the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, on the penis, scrotum, or anus. Genital warts may be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, pink, red, flesh-colored, or yellow-grey. They may also have a bumpy texture, like cauliflower. Sometimes warts may be too small or too hidden to be seen.
Does HPV Ever Go Away?
It is unclear whether HPV goes away completely. A recent study used special lab tests to check women for HPV. Of the women who had HPV at their first study visit, 90% tested negative 6 months to 2 years later. Most researchers think this means that HPV does go away for most people.
However, if you come in contact with another type of HPV, you can become infected again.
How Can I Avoid Getting HPV?
Ways to reduce your risk of getting HPV:
- Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine is recommended for people ages 11-26.
- Abstain from sexual activity.
- Have sex with only one uninfected partner who has sex only with you. People who have many sexual partners are at higher risk of getting HPV.
- Latex condoms (when used correctly from start to finish every time you have sex) provide some protection if they cover the area of the HPV infection. However, HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and condoms do not cover all genital skin. Even then, recent research has shown some strains of HPV can actually penetrate condoms.