Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Facts for both Women and Men

What is HPV?

HPVs are a group of more than 100 types of viruses that cause warts. Some types of HPV cause genital warts. Other types cause cancer of the cervix. It is passed on through genital contact (such as vaginal and anal sex). It is also passed on by skin-to-skin contact. At least 50% of people who have had sex will have HPV at some time in their lives.

What are the signs and symptoms of HPV infection?

Most people who have a genital HPV infection do not know they are infected. The virus lives in the skin or mucous membranes and usually causes no symptoms. Some people get visible genital warts, or have pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, vulva, anus, or penis. Very rarely, HPV infection results in anal or genital cancers.

Genital warts usually appear as soft, moist, pink, or flesh-colored swellings, usually in the genital area. They can be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, and sometimes cauliflower shaped. They can appear on the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, on the cervix, and on the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh. After sexual contact with an infected person, warts may appear within weeks or months, or not at all.

How is HPV infection diagnosed?

In WOMEN, HPV infection is diagnosed on the basis of abnormal Pap tests. A Pap test is the primary cancer-screening tool for cervical cancer or pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, many of which are related to HPV. Also, a specific test is available to detect HPV DNA in women. The test may be used in women with mild Pap test abnormalities, or in women >30 years of age at the time of Pap testing. The results of HPV DNA testing can help health care providers decide if further tests or treatment are necessary.

In MEN, there are no test available to diagnose HPV infection. However, there are ways to detect the most common problem caused by HPV in men, genital warts. Genital warts are usually diagnosed by visual inspection. Some health professionals may use a vinegar solution to help identify flat warts, although this test is not specific for warts. That means the test may falsely identify a normal skin as a wart.

Is there a cure for the HPV infection?

No there is no “cure” for the HPV infection but you can treat the conditions that are caused by HPV, such as genital warts, cervical changes and cervical cancer.

How can I lower my chances of getting HPV infection?

  • Abstinence – You can choose not to have sex.
  • Limit number of partners – If you have sex, you can limit the number of partners you have. Choose a partner who has had no or few sex partners. The fewer partners your partner has had — the less likely he or she is to have HPV.
  • Women age 9-26 can use Vaccine (Gardasil)

How does HPV Vaccine works?

The HPV Vaccine called Gardasil, mimics the disease and creates resistance. It is NOT a live or a dead virus. It prevents infection with HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.

Who should get HPV Vaccine?

It is recommended for 11-12 year-old girls, and can be given to girls as young as 9. The vaccine is also recommended for 13-26 year-old girls/women who have not yet received or completed the vaccine series. For detailed information about HPV Vaccine Gardasil, visit HPV Vaccine Q&A – CDC.


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