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What Is The Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

A doctor shows his female patient test results on a screen

Human papillomavirus, or HPV for short, is the name for a group of viruses that can cause warts or pre-cancerous conditions of the female genitals, penis, anus, mouth and throat. Pre-cancerous means a change that if left untreated might develop into cancer.

There are more than 100 different types of HPV, but only 12 are considered to be 'high risk' of causing pre-cancerous conditions.

How is HPV spread?

HPV is mainly passed on during sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas, including oral and anal sex. Although the chances of getting HPV are greatly reduced by using condoms, you can still pass on HPV through intimate skin to skin contact whilst wearing a condom.

How common is HPV?

HPV is a very common virus. Around 80% of sexually active people will have been infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime. People with HPV may not know that they are infected, as they often have no symptoms. For most people, HPV goes away naturally, but this takes time, and meanwhile warts or pre-cancerous changes might result.

Is there a cure for HPV?

There is no medical cure for HPV. The best ways to avoid infection are to:

  • Have the HPV vaccine
  • Always use condoms when having sex
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have

As no method is 100% effective, you should also make sure you get any genital or anal symptoms checked out by a doctor, and women need to continue to have regular cervical smear tests.

The Gardasil 9 vaccine is for both men and women, and protects against the most types HPV – these are: HPV 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 & 58.  It reduces the risk of getting genital warts by 90%, and HPV related cancers of the anus and female genitals by 89%. There is also some evidence that it could help prevent cancers of the penis, throat and mouth, and particularly so if you engage in oral sex

Visit our HPV Vaccine Clinic for more information.