Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Young women's version of this guide
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male symbolHPV, short for Human Papillomavirus, is a group of over 100 different kinds of viruses, some of which cause warts on the hands and feet and others which cause genital warts and cervical cancer. If you’re sexually active, have had any sexual contact, or thinking about having sexual contact, your best protection is to learn the facts about how HPV is spread and how to prevent getting it.

What is HPV?

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. There are many different types of HPV and more than 40 are sexually transmitted. Researchers keep track of the different types of HPV by identifying them with numbers, such as 6, 11, 16, and 18.

Is it true that only girls get HPV?

No. Anyone who has sexual contact can get HPV – gender doesn’t matter. In fact, approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. The virus is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men (and women) will get it at some point in their lives.

Who can be infected with HPV?

Any sexually active person-no matter what color, race, gender, or sexual orientation-can get HPV. HPV is mainly spread by sexual contact. Very rarely, a mother who is infected with the HPV virus can infect her newborn baby during the delivery.

How do people get HPV?

HPV and genital warts are usually spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has been infected with HPV. Using condoms every time you have sex can help protect against HPV but they aren’t perfect because HPV can be found on skin that isn’t covered by a condom.

What are the symptoms of HPV in guys?

The symptoms of HPV can vary; a guy may be infected and not have any symptoms, or he may develop genital warts. It’s important to remember that even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can still pass on the infection.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are growths on your skin that look like tiny bumps that can develop on or around your anus, thighs, groin, scrotum, or penis. They can also occur on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat. They may be raised or flat, small or large. There can be only one wart or more than one in the same area. Warts can be pink or flesh-colored, red or brown. Some bumps grow together and look like a cauliflower.

What is the treatment for genital warts?

Treatments for genital warts range from watching to see if the warts go away, acid medicines, creams, and laser therapy. The treatment will remove visible warts and unwanted symptoms such as itchiness. The type of treatment your health care provider recommends will depend on the number, location, and size of the warts and the cost and side effects of the different treatments. It’s important to talk with your health care provider about treatment choices and what type of follow-up you will need.

Remember, if you have genital warts, do NOT use any type of over-the-counter “wart” medicine. These medicines are not meant for this type of wart.

Does getting rid of the warts mean I don’t have HPV anymore?

No. Even if you receive treatment for the warts, you may still carry the virus. This is why warts can come back even after treatment.

If I get HPV, will I have it forever?

Researchers used to believe that if you had HPV you would always carry the virus, but because of new medical research, we now believe that in most cases a person who has a normal immune system will actually fight off HPV without treatment. This means that the virus can no longer be detected. However, it remains possible that in some people the virus is hidden and can cause symptoms later. It is important to remember that if you have had an HPV infection, you can still become re-infected with HPV if you come in contact with the virus again.

How can I prevent or lower my chances of getting HPV or genital warts?

The safest way to prevent getting other types of HPV is to NOT have sexual contact.

If you are having sexual contact, it is important to know that you can reduce your risk of infection by having sexual contact with only one partner who only has sexual contact with you. Using condoms every time you have sex gives you some protection, but condoms aren’t perfect. Condoms don’t cover a man’s scrotum (the sack where the testicles are located) which can become infected with HPV. It just takes skin-to-skin contact to get the virus. Avoid having oral sex to prevent certain HPV infections that may cause oropharynx cancers (cancers in the back of throat, base of tongue and tonsils). Dental dams may offer some protection against HPV infections from oral sex with a partner who has HPV.

I heard that HPV can cause cancer in women – what about men?

This is correct. About 12,000 women in the US get cervical cancer each year, and almost all occurrences are related to the HPV virus. Although the development of cancer in men isn’t as high as in women, it can still happen.

Each year in the US, HPV is the cause of:

  • Penile cancer in 400 men
  • Anal cancer in 1,500 men
  • “Oropharyngeal” cancers (cancer in the back of the throat, including the tongue and tonsils) in 5,600 men

I heard there’s an HPV vaccine for girls, what about guys?

Yes, another very important prevention option are the HPV vaccines (Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®). The HPV vaccine is approved by the FDA for males 9 to 26 years old and given in a series of 3 shots over 6 months. The CDC recommends that vaccination begin at 11-12 years old. The second shot should be given two months after the first shot, and the third shot should be given about six months after the first one.

Two of the HPV vaccines (Gardasil® and Gardasil 9®) protect against genital warts and anal cancer in males. Gardasil® protects against four types of HPV: 6 and 11, which cause genital warts in men, and types 16 and 18, which have been linked to anal cancer in men. Gardasil 9® protects against 9 types of HPV, including those that can cause cancers and genital warts in men: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

All kids who are 11 or 12 years old should get the three-dose series of HPV vaccine to protect against HPV. Teen boys who did not start or finish the HPV vaccine series when they were younger should get it now. The CDC recommends young men who weren’t vaccinated before get vaccinated through age 21. The vaccine is also recommended for any man who has sex with men through age 26, and for men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) or organ transplants through age 26, if they did not get HPV vaccine when they were younger.

If you’re concerned about HPV, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your provider: “I’ve read that HPV is a really common STI. What can I do to prevent getting it?”