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What is HPV?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of over 100 infections that frequently are symptom free. Approximately 30% of this group are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that result in contact from an infected partner. One cannot prevent HPV by using condoms, since the virus may be present on skin surrounding the genitals.

HPV has recently received a great deal of attention because it is now known that some forms of HPV cause all forms of cervical cancer. HPV is often not noted by those infected. In some instances forms of HPV will result in genital warts that may be present on the genitals or around the anus, but frequently HPV presents no symptoms, or such insignificant symptoms that they are ignored by those infected.

HPV has no current cure. Oral medications may temporarily cause the warts to resolve. Yet like Herpes, the warts may also recur and need to be retreated at a later date. The real goal in treatment is to make the patient aware of the potential risks associated with HPV, since most diagnoses occur in the presence of an abnormal PAP smear test.

The PAP is part of what should be a yearly gynecological exam for women. It takes a tiny amount of tissue from the cervix, which is then examined by a lab to determine if any abnormal cells exist. Sometimes abnormal cells occur once only and never recur. In other cases, future pap smears will show continuing spread of abnormal cells indicating cervical cancer.

When genital warts are not present, the PAP is the only way to test for HPV. No test exists for men, which is unfortunate, since HPV may also cause penile cancer. In the absence of available testing, caution with sexual partners is urged by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of the US. They suggest that if one chooses to be sexually active, they should do so with a long-term monogamous partner.

If one has multiple partners, one increases risk of contracting HPV. If a partner is aware that in the past, he or she has had genital warts, or an abnormal pap smear, it is only fair to communicate this to any potential partners to reduce risk to them. Unfortunately, one cannot be assured that a potential partner does not have HPV since testing methods are limited.

The risk of sexually transmitted HPV is further spread by ignorance. Sexually active teens tend not to realize that any type of contact with another person’s genitals can transmit HPV, and that most STDs can be spread without sexual intercourse. Lack of access to appropriate care and counseling should a teen become sexually active usually leads to teens being misinformed about the risk of sexual contact of any kind.

Since HPV is now indicated in a serious type of cancer, scientists are actively working to better methods for HPV diagnosis. There is also research into a possible vaccine at a future date. For now, the medical community is exerting its efforts toward education of the public about HPV, so that women will be certain not to skip their recommended yearly gynecological exams. The CDC also recommends that all who have genital warts or who have had contact with someone with HPV should discuss this with their physicians.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon360004 — On Dec 22, 2013

HPV cannot be detected with a Pap smear that shows only abnormal cells, which can be inflammation, cervicitis, and non-HPV causes.

Not all abnormal cells are caused by HPV. However, HPV can be detected with a DNA HPV test. A doctor cannot tell if you have HPV without this test. The HPV test will show if you have high or low risk strains. HPV 16 and 18 have been the HPV most associated to coexist, but not proven to be the cause of cancer. Also, high risk strains, including HPV 16 and HPV 18 strains can regress on their own by beefing up the immune system. See Research by T. Wright, M.D.

By FastPaced — On Jul 20, 2010

It can take up to six months for physical symptoms of HPV to appear after being infected with the virus.

The acid wart removal is extremely painful and must be performed once a week for several weeks in order to be effective. Do not shave the pubic hair when infected with HPV as this spreads the virus all over the genital area (vagina/penis, perineum, and anus).

By rolling68 — On Jul 20, 2010

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. This is one of the most viruses contracted by sexually active people in the United States of America. While the physical symptoms (warts) can be annoying and unsightly, HPV typically clears up after two years of physical symptoms have occurred.

By anon87940 — On Jun 02, 2010

this article really helped me with my assignment.

By anon60412 — On Jan 13, 2010

I'm in grade 9 and I'm learning about HPV. I was if you could tell me, like if you have ever had it and did it hurt and did you know about it right away? Did people treat you like "Ew! I don't want to hug you--you have HPV?" thinking that they can get it by just touching (stupid people)?

By anon42092 — On Aug 19, 2009

I have had my second vaccine injection going for the last one soon! I've had all my warts removed and the doctor says safe sex is the way to go until my last injection! It was the worst possible stage in my life as I had HPV stage 2! There is always an answer or solution!

By anon34692 — On Jun 26, 2009

You say that condoms cannot prevent HPV, but do they reduce the risk of it, or are they totally ineffective? If they reduce the risk, then by how much? If not, then why?

By bilie — On May 11, 2008

are you automatically infected when you had a sexual intercourse to someone who have a genital wart?

By bilie — On May 11, 2008

Will it still be transferred to non carrier even after removing the wart? are there any antibiotics for this type of infection/virus?will it be for lifetime?

By anon12655 — On May 11, 2008

Will it still be contagious even after removing the wart? Is this a lifetime virus?? or might be cured in years? is there any antibiotics for this infections?

By onlyme07 — On Sep 25, 2007

Can you get hpv if you're in a monogamous relationship were both partners were virgins ?

By anon1023 — On May 11, 2007

This article states that HPV can be transmitted through any contact with the carriers genitalia correct, is this true?

By anon525 — On Apr 26, 2007

what are the benefits/risks

By meka22 — On Apr 19, 2007

So would you say that hpv is an std?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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