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HPV Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is HPV? HPV stands for the Human Papillomavirus which is a group of papillomavirus that affects humans. Of the 100 to 200 identified strains of HPV, some cause no symptoms, some are the cause of different kinds of warts while other are precursors to cervical and other genital cancers. You can be infected with HPV but not show any symptoms.

  • Is HPV infection common? It is estimated that up to 75% of sexually active men and women will be infected with the HPV at some stage of their lives. Young people are the most susceptible with the risk of infection diminishing with age.

  • How do you get infected by HPV? HPV is spread by contact with HPV infected skin. You can spread the virus to other parts of your own body, for example, by touching a common wart on your skin. Highly contagious strains of HPV are spread during sexual activity with an infected person, including, but not restricted to, sexual intercourse. Any skin-to-skin contact with an HPV infected area can spread the virus.
  • Does using a condom protect against catching HPV? Using a condom certainly does reduce the risk of contracting HPV from an infected sexual partner but it won't prevent infection from the skin surrounding the genital area.

  • How do you know if you have been infected with HPV? You may display symptoms but these can take some time to develop; from weeks to months usually. Some HPV strains don't produce any symptoms and some people don't get any symptoms from symptom-producing strains. This means that you can't rely on the presence or absence of HPV symptoms to know if you have the virus. The only reliable method is to have the HPV test that has been developed for women; there is still no test for men.

  • How do I know if a sexual partner has HPV? A person infected with HPV has a responsibility to their sexual partner to tell them they have the virus. However, they may be unaware they have been infected if they have no noticeable symptoms. If you suspect you may be infected, or you have tested positive to HPV, you need to tell any partners you have had.

  • If I have HPV, will I get cancer? A few strains of HPV are precursors for cervical and other cancers. Unless you have been infected with these particular strains, you have no greater risk of developing cancer than the general population. The strains that lead to cancer do not have any visible symptoms.

  • Is there a treatment for HPV? There is currently no treatment for HPV although the symptoms, mainly common and genital warts, can be treated. The best defence against HPV and other viral infection is a strong immune system; in most people who have been infected with HPV, their immune system clears the virus from the body without any outside help. It is therefore important that your diet and lifestyle support a strong immune system.

  • How can I protect myself against HPV infection? The only way to absolutely avoid HPV is to abstain from sexual relationships. As this is generally not an option, the second best way is to be monogamous – only have one sexual partner in life. Of course, while you may only ever have one partner, that partner may have had several sexual partners before you came along, so ask them to be tested (if they are a woman). Using a condom gives you some protection but it isn't fool-proof.

  • Does HPV affect my ability to fall pregnant and give birth? There has been no link made between HPV and fertility and it appears as though the virus has no affect on getting pregnant and delivering a healthy baby. If you have genital warts, they may enlarge or multiply during your pregnancy due to hormonal fluctuations but only rarely do they need treatment or removal during your pregnancy. It is also very rare that the virus is transferred to the baby and this is mainly during the delivery; a Caesarean may be an option.
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