Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Also known as genital warts

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 200 viruses that cause warts. Roughly 40 of these variants are transmitted sexually and cause warts on or around your genitals, anus, mouth, or throat. 

A very common sexually transmitted infection (STI), HPV often resolves without treatment. Some high-risk strains are linked to cancer, however. Topical medications are sometimes effective in treating genital warts. If that fails, your doctor may recommend removing the warts, which can be done by burning, freezing, or surgical removal.

Correct usage of latex condoms can reduce the risk of HPV, but may not prevent all infections. The HPV vaccine offers protection against cancer-causing strains of HPV. It is administered in two or three separate doses, ideally given before a person becomes sexually active. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is HPV?

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, with about 14 million new infections each year. In fact, the CDC estimates that almost every person who is sexually active will contract HPV in their lifetime if not vaccinated.

  • How do you get HPV?

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) spread through intimate contact with infected people. You can get HPV from having vaginal, anal, or oral sex and the virus can be passed even when no symptoms are present. HPV can lay dormant for years without any signs or symptoms.

  • Does HPV go away on its own?

    In most cases, human papillomavirus (HPV) infections clear up without any treatment within 18 to 24 months. There is no treatment for the virus itself, but its chief symptom of genital warts can be treated with topical medications or removed by freezing, burning, or surgically excising the skin growth.

  • Can you get HPV from kissing?

    Oral human papillomavirus (HPV) can likely be spread by deep kissing an infected partner. A 2014 study of heterosexual couples found people with a partner who has oral HPV has an increased risk of also contracting an oral infection.

  • Can HPV be cured?

    There is no cure for human papillomavirus infection, but most people clear the infection on their own within two years. The symptoms of HPV can be treated, but there is currently no treatment for the virus itself.

  • Is HPV an STD?

    Yes and no. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a collection of viruses that can cause warts on any part of your body. Some strains of HPV are spread through sexual contact with an infected person and can result in genital warts, which is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Sexually transmitted HPV can also affect the mouth, throat, and anus.

  • Is HPV contagious?

    Yes, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is contagious and can be spread through intimate contact with an infected person. Symptoms do not need to be present for a person to be contagious. In fact, most people with HPV are asymptomatic and it can take two years for the virus to clear your system.

  • How do I get tested for HPV?

    Currently, there is not a specific test that determines a person’s HPV status. In women, the human papillomavirus (HPV) can be detected in cervical cell samples collected during a Pap smear. A similar test is used to detect anal HPV. There is no diagnostic test available for oral or throat forms of HPV.

  • Is the HPV vaccine safe?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 120 million doses of HPV vaccine have been administered and the data shows the vaccine is both safe and effective in preventing HPV-related cancers and there is no evidence to suggest it causes fertility problems. While some deaths and serious side effects have been reported, the CDC’s investigation determined they were not caused by the vaccine. 

  • Does HPV cause cancer?

    Certain high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) have been linked to cancers of the cervix, anus, mouth, throat, penis, vulva, and vagina. In fact, nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. However, most of the time HPV resolves on its own and most people who contract HPV do not go on to develop cancer. 

  • Who should get the HPV vaccine?

    HPV vaccines protect against high-risk variants of human papillomavirus (HPV) that are linked to cervical, anal, oropharyngeal, and genital cancers. Since most sexually active people will contract HPV during their lifetime, vaccination is recommended for all. The HPV vaccine is approved for people ages 9 to 45 and ideally should be given prior to any sexual contact. In young teens through age 14, it is administered in two doses six to 12 months apart. People over the age of 14 need three doses given within a six month timeframe. 

Key Terms

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  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. HPV. Updated October 2, 2020.

  2. NIH: National Cancer Institute. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. Updated September 9, 2019.

Additional Reading