5 Essential HPV Facts


The acronym ‘HPV’ is increasingly known and used. HPV, the Human Papillomavirus, is most commonly known as the virus that causes warts and while effective HPV treatments exist, it is incredibly important to understand more about the HPV virus, its causes and symptoms.

Here we offer you five key facts to help people to be more aware of HPV and understand its impacts for humans.

Fact #1: There are many different types of HPV

HPV infects the skin and mucous membranes and some types cause warts (or verrucae). Some types of HPV are sexually transmitted and cause genital warts (these are generally terms low risk), while others can cause cervical cancer (and are therefore considered high risk).

Not all types of HPV present warts as a symptom. Nearly 200 types of HPV are known and the majority of these produce absolutely no symptoms in most people.

Fact #2:  Not all types of HPV are sexually transmitted

Only some types of HPV are sexually transmitted (about 30-40 types). Genital warts can be passed on through sexual contact and can grow on both the inside and outside of the penis, anus or vagina.

If the warts are external, then they usually can be seen, but it cannot be assumed that they will be visible and care should be taken as internal warts certainly will not be seen.

Fact #3:  HPV is transferred through skin to skin contact

The most usual way for HPV to be transmitted is through direct contact with warts or skin that is infected. This means that HPV can be transferred through oral, anal or vaginal sex with a person carrying the virus without the exchange of bodily fluids. Although approximately 50% of people with the HPV virus never develop genital warts, they can still pass on the virus.

Fact #4:  An HPV infection can be quite easy to identify

It is usually quite easy to identify an HPV infection, although the advice of a qualified physician should always be sought as only they can confirm a diagnosis. There are three most commonly seen strains of HPV and each of these has its own signs and symptoms.

  • Hand warts are very often seen in children and are actually very common. These warts are often unpleasant in appearance but are benign and not dangerous in the sense that they will not become cancerous or lead to subsequent health complications.
  • Plantar warts are most commonly seen on the soles of the feet or on toes. Although these warts usually do not spread beyond a particular site, the individual benefits from HPV treatment as they can cause pain when weight bearing. These warts are common as they are highly contagious and often contracted in public places such as swimming pools and public showering facilities.
  • Genital warts can only be transferred through skin to skin contact. These warts usually appear in clusters and may be confined to a small area or spread into larger areas along the genitals. As genital warts are highly contagious, condoms should be used to prevent their transference and the advice of a health professional should be sought for their treatment.

Fact #5:  There is a link between HPV and cervical cancer

Most people are not aware that an estimated 70% of all cervical cancer is caused by genital HPV which does not appear as genital warts or any other external symptoms. The only way of detecting this is through a pap smear, which illuminates the need for women to have regular pap smears.

While more and more is known about the HPV virus and HPV treatment, some confusion remains about its signs, symptoms and impacts. While some types of HPV have no symptoms, there are some that are highly contagious and have serious impacts. Just as we are increasingly aware of breast cancer and its signs and symptoms, it is important to be aware of HPV and its characteristics.