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Facts About...


What is it?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus found in both men and women. There are more than 40 types of HPV that specifically affect the genital area. HPV can lead to genital warts and cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva (area around the vagina), anus, and penis. In Canada, HPV types 16 and 18 cause over 70% of cervical cancers and HPV types 6 and 11 cause over 90% of genital warts.

How is it spread?

Most people will become infected with HPV at some point in their lives. 4 out of 5 people who have sex will be exposed to HPV. It is spread easily through skin to skin contact with the penis, scrotum, vagina, vulva, or anus of someone who has the virus. Kissing or touching partner’s genitals with the mouth can also transmit HPV.

What do I look for?

Many people who have been infected do not have any symptoms but still carry the virus and can infect their sexual partner(s). Genital warts caused by HPV are usually painless; they can sometimes be itchy, bleed and/or have discharge. Pap tests can detect changes on the cervix that may be caused by HPV.

How is it treated?

As HPV is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective. In healthy people, the virus usually clears the body by itself. Skin treatments are available for genital warts. Treatments will remove the warts but do not remove the virus from your body. Warts can come back since there is no cure. Early detection and treatment of changes on the cervix can prevent cancer of the cervix from developing.

How can I protect myself?

  • Reduce the number of sexual partners.
  • Condoms can decrease the risk of getting most Sexually Transmitted Infections and will help lower the chances of getting infected. Condoms may not completely reduce the risk of getting HPV because the virus is spread through skin to skin contact beyond the area that is covered with the condom.
  • To reduce the risk of cancer of the cervix, make sure to have regular pap tests.
  • A vaccine is available to protect you against certain strains of HPV. Talk to your health care provider about getting vaccinated.
  • See Facts About…Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine.
  • See Facts About…Genital Warts.

October 30, 2015

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