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What is HPV?

Page last updated 21 June 2018

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a common virus that is spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. HPV is primarily spread through sexual contact, and as such, it has been estimated that up to 79% of males and females who have had any kind of sexual activity involving genital contact, will be infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some point in their life. 

There are more than 100 types of the HPV - about 40 types of HPV are known as genital HPV (as they affect the genital area). Whereas some of the other types can cause common warts on the hands and feet. 

Most types of HPV are harmless, don’t cause any symptoms and will go away on their own without treatment. However, certain ‘high-risk’ genital HPV types can sometimes lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat. 

Genital HPV types may be ‘high-risk‘ types (such as HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 45, 52 and 58) or ’low-risk‘ types (such as HPV types 6 and 11). ’High-risk’ HPV types can cause cervical cancer and some vaginal, vulvar and anal cancers. ’Low-risk‘ HPV types can cause genital warts. Both the “high-risk” and “low-risk” types of HPV can cause abnormal changes.

Sources & Citations

SPANZ.SAPAS.18.04.0131a - Date of preparation May 2018