Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
What is HPV?
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a virus spread during unprotected sex with an infected partner.
Who can get HPV?
- Anyone can become infected but your risk increases as you increase the number of partners you (or your partner) have throughout life.
- It is one of the most common STDs.
Are there different types of HPV infection?
- There are many different types of HPV viruses:
- Some can cause genital warts on the penis, around (or in) the vagina, and around (or in) the anus.
- In females, some types can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer.
How do I know if I have HPV?
- Infected people often have no symptoms and do not realize they have HPV.
- Males and females can develop genital warts, which may be visible but not symptomatic.
- These may look like small cauliflowers or like flesh-colored dome-shaped bumps.
- Warts can sometimes cause itching, pain with sex, pain with bowel movements, or emotional distress about the physical appearance of the warts.
- Females can develop changes in the cells of the cervix (the opening to the uterus). In this case, there are usually no symptoms. A Pap smear is needed to determine this infection and these changes.
How can I be tested for HPV?
- There is no specific test for genital warts. Your healthcare provider can make a diagnosis by examining the warts.
- A Pap smear can detect abnormal changes in a female's cervix. This requires a pelvic exam. Depending on the results of the Pap smear, some women will require a colposcopy (a test which removes a small piece of tissue from the cervix) to make a more definite diagnosis or to determine the extent of the abnormal cells.
How do you treat HPV?
- In many cases, genital HPV infection resolves over time without any treatment.
- You can remove warts using treatments applied by your healthcare provider in the office or by you at home.
- These include using medicated solutions or creams, freezing with liquid nitrogen, or removing surgically.
- Treatment is often determined by the size and number of warts, and may require multiple treatments over time.
- Warts may return after a few weeks or months and require repeat treatment.
- Abnormalities of the cervix cells may require surgical procedures by a gynecologist to eliminate the abnormal cells.
- Using condoms or other barrier contraceptives can help prevent the spread of HPV.
What if I don't get treated for my HPV infection?
- Genital warts will often go away on their own.
- HPV infects skin cells, but doesn't always produce a genital wart. As a result, you can spread the infection to your partner without even knowing you are infected.
- The types of HPV that cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix may lead to cervical cancer in the future.
- Women can spread genital warts to their newborn babies.
Is there a vaccine to prevent HPV?
Yes. There are two HPV vaccines. One, GARDASIL®, contains four types of HPV, and the other, CERVARIX®, contains two types of HPV.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
The CDC recommended that all adolescents between 11 and 12 years of age receive the HPV vaccine. The vaccine can be given to girls as young as 9 years of age and is also recommended for all teenage and adult women between 13 and 26 years of age. The vaccine is given as a series of three shots; the second shot is given 2 months after the first; and the third shot is given 6 months after the first.
Boys between 9 and 18 years old can get the HPV vaccine (known as Gardasil®) which protects against four types of HPV.
The Vaccine Education Center at CHOP provides complete, up-to-date and reliable information about HPV and the HPV vaccine.
To learn about appointment times and locations with CHOP's Division of Adolescent Medicine, see appointments or call 215-590-3537.