Is HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) an STD?

Reviewed on 9/23/2020

What Is HPV?

HPV Infection
There is no treatment for HPV but in some cases, HPV will go away on its own.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the U.S. An estimated 79 million people in the U.S. are infected with HPV, most people in their late teens and early 20s.

There are many different types of HPV, and some can cause genital warts, while others are linked to cervical cancer. Some types of HPV simply cause common warts that can be found on other parts of the body such as the hands or feet.

HPV is not the same as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2 (HSV).

What Are Symptoms of HPV?

Most people who have HPV do not have any symptoms. 

When symptoms of HPV occur, they may include:

  • Genital warts 
    • Usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps 
    • May be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower
    • May appear pink or flesh-colored
    • Can occur on the anus, cervix, scrotum, groin, thigh, or penis

What Causes HPV?

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus transmitted by vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected person. HPV can be transmitted even when an infected person has no symptoms.

Symptoms of HPV and cancers caused by HPV can develop years after having sex with an infected person, which can make it difficult know when you first became infected.

How Is HPV Diagnosed?

There are tests to diagnose some types of HPV, but not others. If you have genital warts, you have an HPV infection but it is not the same type of HPV that can lead to cancer.

Women are screened for cervical cancer every time they get a Pap test (sometimes called a "Pap smear"). 

There are no tests to check for genital HPV infection in men, or HPV infection in the mouth or throat.

What Is the Treatment for HPV?

There is no treatment for HPV but in some cases, HPV will go away on its own. There are treatments for the health problems HPV can cause:

  • Genital warts can be treated with prescription medication.
  • Cervical precancer can be treated. 
  • Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early.

What Are Complications of HPV?

Complications of HPV include:

  • Cancers 
    • Cervix
    • Vulva
    • Vagina
    • Penis
    • Anus
    • Throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (oropharyngeal cancer)

QUESTION

Condoms are the best protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). See Answer

How Do You Prevent HPV?

It may be possible to lower the risk of contracting HPV.

  • Get the HPV vaccine that can protect against cancers and other diseases caused by HPV.
    • The vaccine is only effective when given before a person is infected with HPV, which is why it is recommended for young people.
    • The CDC recommends HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12 years (or as early as 9 years of age) and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.
  • If you are sexually active, use latex condoms.
    • Latex condoms do not completely protect against HPV because HPV can live on areas of the skin not covered by a condom, but they still lower the risk of getting HPV.
  • Get screened for cervical cancer.
    • Women should be routinely screened for cervical cancer between the ages of 21 to 65 years.
  • Be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship.

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Reviewed on 9/23/2020
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