HPV, also called Human Papillomavirus, is a virus that causes warts. There are more than 100 types of HPV; about 40 types affect the genital area. These types are divided into high-risk and low-risk.
- Low-risk types cause warts in the genital or anal areas or in the mouth or throat.
- High-risk types can cause pre-cancerous lesions that affect the cervix, anus, mouth, throat, penis, vagina or vulva.
- About 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one genital HPV infection in their life.
How do you get HPV?
You can get HPV by having direct contact with the infected skin of a person who has HPV. HPV is passed through close skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can also get HPV even if there is no penetration during sex.
How do I know if I have HPV?
You may not have any visible symptoms of HPV; watch for changes in your body.
Signs and symptoms of HPV
- Genital warts are a sign of some types of HPV.
- Warts can be single or clustered, flat or raised, hard or soft, as well as different or the same colour as the surrounding skin.
- Warts can be found on the cervix, vulva, penis, scrotum, anus and/or the thighs of an infected person and on or around the mouth or in your throat.
Some people may not have any signs or symptoms.
Testing for HPV
There is no test for HPV or warts. If you notice any symptoms that concern you, visit your doctor, a walk-in clinic or a Sexual Health Clinic.
- A doctor can diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
- If you are having sex, you should have regular physical exams by your doctor.
- Women 21 years of age and older who are or have been sexually active should have Pap tests every three years. A Pap test can find changes in a woman’s body caused by HPV.
Treatment for HPV and genital warts
There is no cure for HPV.
More than 80% of HPV infections clear spontaneously within 18 months.
There is no way to know who will clear the infection and who will develop cancer or other health problems.
Most genital warts are harmless but can be difficult to treat. Treatment can get rid of the visible warts, but they may come back over time. Treatment for warts includes:
- Self-applied prescription creams
- Laser removal
- Surgical removal
- Cryotherapy—freezing warts with liquid nitrogen
It may take more than one treatment session or type of treatment to get rid of the warts.
Where to get help for HPV
How to prevent HPV
Here are some tips to prevent getting HPV:
- Choose not to have sex. Any time there is close skin-to-skin contact, there is a risk of getting HPV.
- Be aware that HPV can be passed through vaginal, anal or oral sex any time there is close skin-to-skin contact.
- Practice safer sex – use condoms or dental dams from start to finish every time you have sex. Condom or dental dams only protect the area of skin they cover.
- Use a condom on sex toys and do not share sex toys.
- Limit your number of sexual partners. The chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection goes up with each new sexual partner.
- Ask your partner about their history of sexually transmitted infections before having vaginal, anal or oral sex.
- Get tested for other sexually transmitted infections with each new sexual partner.
- Get the HPV vaccine through your family doctor or Public Health Services. This protects against some types of HPV.
- Be aware of the symptoms of HPV and do not have close skin-to-skin or sexual contact when your partner has warts.
- Be aware that HPV can be transmitted even when there are no symptoms.
For more information:
- Sexual Health Information Line 905-528-5894
- Sexual Health Info Line Ontario (after hours, weekends, various languages)
- Sexual Health E Chat Live
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