Interesting Facts About HPV - Top Things You Didn't Know

What to know about the human papillomavirus - the most common STI

With the FDA approval of Gardasil, the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), there have been many reports in the media about how HPV is passed from person to person. Even still, there are still a lot of interesting facts about the virus that most people do not know.

Many different types of HPV exist (more than 100 types) and the latest Gardasil vaccine is only successful at preventing only 9 of them. Some types of HPV can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers.

Here is some more information about what most people don't, but should, know about HPV:

You Don't Need to Have Sex to Contract HPV

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HPV is transmitted through genital skin-to-skin sexual contact. No penetration is needed to contract or transmit the virus and even areas not covered by a condom can be infected by the virus.

HPV can also be passed through vaginal and anal intercourse. Although less common, the virus can also be transmitted through oral sex.

You can get HPV if you have ever been involved in any type of sexual activity since it is easily passed between partners skin and mucous.

Those who have had many sex partners (or sex with someone who has had many partners) may be more likely to get infected with HPV. It is important to note that a person who has had only one partner can also get HPV.

Not All Types of HPV Cause Cancer

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HPV is a group of over a hundred different viruses. There are some types that are high-risk, cancer-causing strains, and there are other strains that are known to cause genital warts.

The HPV strains responsible for genital warts do not cause cancer, and vice versa. HPV types 16 and 18, are considered high-risk HPVs which cause approximately 5% of all cancers worldwide.

There are several types of cancer that are caused by high-risk HPVs, such as:

HPV Is Very Common

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It is estimated that over 20 million Americans are infected with HPV, making it the most common sexually transmitted disease.

As the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), HPV is a different virus from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or herpes. It is so common that researchers believe that almost all sexually active people will contract the virus at some point in their lives. 

There Is No Cure for HPV

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The types of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical cancer can be managed, not cured. Genital warts can be treated by removing them, but removal does not "cure" the patient.

High-risk types of HPV known to cause cervical cancer can be detected and managed through routine Pap smears in women.

Most People With HPV Do Not Have Symptoms

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Most people are unaware they are infected with HPV until they are diagnosed with genital warts or have an abnormal Pap smear. People can still be infected and not show any symptoms of HPV. This is why regular Pap smears are vital for women after the age of 21 as it can take anywhere between 10 to 30 years from an initial HPV infection to when a cancerous tumor may form.

Unfortunately, there is not currently a medical test to diagnose HPV in men, except for a visual diagnosis of genital warts.


National Cancer Institute."Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines." 

CDC. "Genital HPV Infection - CDC Fact Sheet". 

Satterwhite et al. (2013) Satterwhite CL, Torrone E, Meites E, Dunne EF, Mahajan R, Ocfemia MC, Su J, Xu F, Weinstock H. Sexually transmitted infections among US women and men: prevalence and incidence estimates, 2008. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 2013;40:187–193. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0b013e318286bb53.

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