Info Center

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)? Is it the same thing as genital warts?

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by a virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), genital HPV is the most common STD. About 79 million Americans are currently living with HPV, and there are an estimated 14 million new cases every year. There are about 100 different strains (types) of HPV and over 40 of those can infect someone’s genital areas. HPV is usually passed by close skin-to-skin sexual contact (including oral, anal or vaginal sex) between someone with the infection and their sexual partner.

Different strains of HPV affect the body differently. Some strains may be cleared from the body over time with no symptoms, no treatment and no negative after-effects. Others cause visible genital warts or an increased risk for cancer of the cervix, penis, anus, vulva, vagina and/or throat. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.

In the U.S., there are three vaccines, Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix, that have been approved and offer protection against HPV. Gardasil and Gardasil 9 have been shown to protect people of all genders from the types of HPV that cause most cases of cancer and genital warts. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both vaccines. Cervarix is approved only for people with a cervix and targets the two strains of HPV that are the leading causes of cervical cancer.

Only a health care provider can diagnose HPV. An HPV test looks for HPV in cervical cells, but there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat. Pap tests can be used to diagnose irregular cells on the cervix or in the rectum caused by HPV. Talk with your health care provider for more details about whether you might benefit from a cervical or anal Pap test. In general though, Pap tests are only recommended for people with a cervix who are aged 21 and above.

Once a health care provider makes a diagnosis of HPV, they will talk with you about the specific options that are available to you. Treatments are available to help people manage their HPV symptoms, but because it is a virus, it may remain in someone’s body for life.

HPV is spread through certain sexual behaviors. If you choose to be sexually active, the best way to minimize your risk is to use condoms and safer sex methods during any sexual contact. Keep in mind that condoms may not cover all areas of the genital skin where the virus is present. Also, the more sexual partners you have and the more partners they’ve had, the greater your risk of getting infected.

For more information, visit the American Sexual Health Association’s website.

Chat software by BoldChat