HPV is a common virus, it's known as the human papillomavirus. There are about 60 types of HPV that can infect the genitals or sex organs of men and women. HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. But HPV usually causes no symptoms so you can’t tell that you have it.
HPV can infect the genital areas in different ways:
Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman’s cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time.
Other HPV types can cause genital warts in men and women.
But the HPV types that can cause genital warts are different from the types that can cause cervical cancer.
How can I get HPV? HPV is passed on through genital (skin to skin) contact, most often during vaginal or anal sex. Most people never even know they have HPV, or that they are passing it to their partner. So it may not be possible to know who gave you HPV or when you got it. HPV is so common that most people get it soon after they start having sex. And it may only be found years later.
All women who ever had sex are at risk for HPV and cervical cancer.
Symptoms: Genital warts look like clusters of flesh-colored cauliflower bumps on your genitals. Since these warts can pop up inside a woman's vagina, they may be hard to see on her.
Incubation Period: About 2 to 4 months, but since infections are harder to get than bacterial ones, it can take from four to six weeks to infect a partner with HPV. It can take up to nine months to see if you are infected from a partner. Keep in mind, genital warts are very, very contagious!
Treatment: Because warts are caused by a virus, they cannot be cured. However, there are chemicals that can burn them off your body. Genital warts can also be frozen or cut off, or removed with a laser. There is a good chance that they will come back again even after removal.
Most of the time, HPV goes away by itself within two years and does not cause health problems. It is thought that the immune system fights off HPV naturally. Experts do not know why HPV goes away in most, but not all cases. It is only when HPV stays on a woman’s cervix for many years that it can cause cervical cancer.
Left Untreated: The is a link between genital warts and cervical cancer. There is also a link between HPV and cancers of the vagina and penis. So, if you are diagnosed with genital warts, you are at higher risk for developing one of these cancers later on in life.
Vaccination: You must be vaccinated BEFORE you get genital warts, that is why many parents are vaccinating their daughters before they become sexually active. It is a personal decision whether to do this or not.
The vaccine Gardasil® protects against four types of HPV. These together cause 70% of cervical cancers and genital warts, according to the CDC. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) This vaccine is a series of three, not just one vaccine. For more information about the Gardasil vaccine, visit their web site.
* For information about genital warts, see: www.cdc.gov/std/hpv