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Human papillomavirus HPV

Overview of human papillomavirus HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that causes the appearance of warts on the body and can be sexually transmitted (an STI). As the most common STI in the world, an incredible 80% of all adults who have sexual intercourse will get an HPV infection at some point in their life.

If you are concerned about your HPV risk, or if you are experiencing symptoms, our expert team of gynecologists at Dignity Health will provide the care you need. Find a Doctor near you today to learn more about treatment for HPV.


The signs and symptoms of HPV depend on the site and severity of infection. Most cases of HPV are asymptomatic, meaning you will not have any noticeable signs or symptoms. For those who do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • Genital warts (a bump or group of bumps in the genital area)
  • Cervical dysplasia (the presence of abnormal precancerous cells on the cervix)
  • Cervical cancer (the presence of cancerous cells on the cervix)

It is important to note that a strain of HPV causes all types of warts on the body. In most cases, the body can fight it off. However, if you have a strain of HPV that causes genital warts or is present on your cervix, there could be complications down the road. With this in mind, if you have one of the above conditions, your care provider will also check for HPV infection.


HPV spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact, including during genital, anal, and oral intercourse, and can enter through a small abrasion or tear in the skin. In addition, an HPV infection can be spread from mother to fetus if genital warts are present. Keep in mind that genital warts, like all other types of warts, are contagious and can spread through direct contact.


There are about 150 different types, or strains, of HPV. Some of these viruses are harmless. Some cause warts, including genital warts. Others cause cancer, including cancer of the cervix, anus, penis, mouth, and throat. Some of the most common types of HPV strains include:

  • HPV 6 and HPV 11 – These are low-risk and cause approximately 90% of all cases of genital warts.
  • HPV 16 and HPV 18 – These are the most common strains that can cause cell changes and cancer of the cervix. These usually do not present with symptoms.

Risk factors

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk for HPV infection. These include:

  • The number of sexual partners you have (the more there are, the higher the risk)
  • Having unprotected sex (without the use of a condom)
  • Age (genital warts are more common in adolescents and young adults, and high-risk, cancer-causing strains of HPV are more common in women over 30)
  • A weak immune system (HIV/AIDS or chemotherapy)
  • Damaged skin (a cut, puncture, scratch, or any other open wound)
  • Contact with warts (touching someone else’s warts or surfaces exposed to HPV directly)


Scientists are learning more about treatment and prevention options for HPV. The FDA approved the first HPV vaccine — a vaccine that can prevent HPV infection and the development of HPV-related medical conditions and cancers — in 2006.

HPV vaccination is now recommended for all boys and girls ages 11 and 12 to protect them before they become sexually active. Females between the ages of 13 and 26 who have not previously been vaccinated can also receive the HPV vaccine.

Other HPV prevention strategies include:

  • Avoiding sex (abstinence)
  • Limiting sexual partners
  • Using barrier contraception such as condoms and dental dams (which may decrease, but not eliminate, the risk of HPV infection)

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.