What is it?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that infect the skin. There are over 100 different kinds, but only a few cause genital warts, and others may cause cervical cancer.

Who has it?

About 75% of men and women who are sexually active will get HPV at some point during their lives, and nearly 6 million people get it each year, making HPV that most common STD in the US. HPV is largely harmless, and for most people who get it, their body will fight the virus off on its own. Of all people infected with HPV, only 1% will develop genital warts, and about 12,000 women with untreated HPV will develop cervical cancer each year.

How do you get it?

HPV can be passed through anal, vaginal, and oral sex, or any other skin-to-skin contact with infected areas.

How do you know you have it?

The majority of people who have HPV — even those with the type that causes genital warts — may not know they have it, because they don’t have any symptoms. Those who do have symptoms may develop little bumps in or around the penis, anus, or vagina.

How do you test for it?

Right now there isn’t a test for HPV, but for women an abnormal pap smear may be an indication of infection. If you think you may have warts, your health care provider can use a bright light to look for any visible warts.

Can you get rid of it?

Usually HPV will go away on its own. Sometimes genital warts caused by HPV may go away on their own, but if they don’t your health care provider can remove them, or give you a medication that will cause them to go away.

How do you keep from getting it?

Condoms can help reduce the spread of HPV, but since they don’t cover all the areas that the virus can infect, they may not fully protect against infection. The best way to steer clear of HPV is to get the HPV vaccine, or be mutually monogamous with a partner who does not have HPV.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Very rarely HPV may lead to cervical and other types of cancers, or pregnant women may pass genital warts on to their baby.

Think you may be at risk for STDs? Contact your local family planning clinic.

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