HPV - What Are They?


The term HPVs is the acronym for human papillomaviruses, of which there is in excess of one hundred types that affect humans. Most people understand the HPV virus to cause genital warts and it follows that there is more than forty types of the HPV virus that cause genital warts. Although forms of HPV treatment exist, there is no definitive cure for the HPV virus.


The human papillomavirus causes genital warts. More than one hundred types of HPVs are known to exist, with approximately forty of these posing potential infection of the genital area.

HPV-6 and HPV-11 are two particular types of the HPV virus that cause an estimated ninety per cent of genital warts. However, these two types of the HPV virus are deemed to be low risk, because their likelihood of causing cancer is comparatively low.

Other types of the HPV virus have been shown to cause precancerous changes to the cervix of women and cervical cancer. One of the high risk versions of the HPV virus (HPV-16) causes approximately fifty per cent of all cervical cancers.

Genital warts are markedly different from common warts. Common warts are caused by different types of HPV that infect the skin.


Genital warts produce no pain but are likely to present frustration because of where they are located, their size and possibly, the itchiness they can cause. It is quite common for both men and women with genital warts to speak of genital warts as painless bumps that are itchy and produce discharge.

Typically, the size of warts may range from less than one millimetre to several square centimetres in the event that warts join together. It is also common for genital warts to be present in more than one area.

How are genital warts transmitted?

The primary way in which the HPV infection is transmitted is via sexual activity. Like some other sexually transmitted infections, the risk of infection rises with the greater the number of sexual partners an individual has.

During sexual activity, abrasions in the genital area that are microscopic in size allow particles with the HPV virus to penetrate the skin and mucus. As soon as cells are infected with HPV, it is possible that there may be no evidence of infection for months or even years. Some people who are infected with the HPV virus are asymptomatic, meaning that they never show any symptoms of the virus.

However, approximately two thirds of people who engage in sexual activity with a person who is infected with HPV develops genital warts within a three month period.

HPV and links to other diseases:

For most people, the number of different HPVs comes as a surprise. Those that cause genital warts infect the anogenital tract (the genital tract and anus) of both men and women. There is a known link between cervical cancer and genital warts and, a subgroup of the HPVs that infect the genital tract and anus, can lead to precancerous changes in cells of the cervix and thereby cause cervical cancer.

The types of HPV that cause cancer of the cervix have also been linked to penile and anal cancers in men and some types of head and neck cancers in both women and men.