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Learn All About HPV: An Introduction

Fact Checked

human papillomavirus

Story at-a-glance -

  • Known as the most common STI, HPV can affect any person who is sexually active — and some don’t even know they have the condition
  • The good news is that most HPV cases are harmless and people do not exhibit symptoms. This is because the immune system is able to fight and clear the infection naturally
  • Read these pages to discover what causes it, the known risk factors and what you can do to protect yourself from this infection

As their name implies, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are illnesses that are passed from one person to another via sexual intercourse or contact with genitals. These conditions can be transmitted via vaginal, oral or anal sex.

However, the term STD is becoming less popular, and is instead being replaced with “sexually transmitted infections” or STIs. This gives these conditions a broader meaning, as in some cases, a person can pass on the infection and even clear it from their own bodies without knowing they have it — in other words, they do not have to be actively ill to infect other individuals.1,2

Such is the case with the human papillomavirus infection. Known as the most common STI, HPV can affect any person who is sexually active — and some don’t even know they have the virus.

Just How Prevalent Is HPV?

HPV refers to a group of over 200 viral strands,3 some of which can lead to the development of warts or papillomas — hence the name.4 This illness is so common that it’s said that around 80% of sexually active individuals will be exposed to the virus at some point in their lives.5  

At least 14 million cases of HPV are diagnosed every year in the U.S., and at any point in time, approximately 79 million men and women are actively infected with the virus.6

The 2 Risk Types of HPV

Contrary to popular belief, HPV cannot thrive in the bloodstream, spinal cord or internal organs. Rather, it prefers to live in the skin (cutaneously) and moist mucous membranes. Aside from your genital regions, mucosal types can infect your mouth, throat and anus, while cutaneous types can infect your feet and hands.7

As mentioned above, there are over 200 different strains (also known as “types”) of HPV. While some sources will mention only 100 types, DNA sequencing has confirmed 200, with 85 genotypes fully classified, and another 120 partially defined.8 These are classified as either low-risk or high-risk HPV types:9

Low-risk HPV types are classified as such because they do not increase your risk of cervical cancer, even though they can prompt physical changes on infected body parts or cause genital warts. HPV types 6 and 11 are the most common low-risk HPVs, and are responsible for over 90% of genital warts. Types 6 and 11 are also responsible for a rare infection that causes warts in the upper respiratory system.

Sometimes this respiratory infection presents in babies who are infected by their mothers during birth. This is called juvenile onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (JOPRR).10 Other low-risk HPVs include types 42, 43 and 44.11,12

High-risk HPV types are the ones believed to cause abnormal cells to form on the cervix, penis or anus. If not addressed, persistent infections of this type of HPV sometimes can trigger cancer. Types 16 and 18 are the most troublesome, accounting for the majority of HPV-caused cancers.13,14

Other high-risk types are 31, 33, 34, 34, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 66, 68 and 70. (However, it should be noted that in rare cases certain low-risk subtypes are occasionally found to be cancerous.)15

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Most HPV Infections Clear on Their Own

The good news is that most HPV cases are harmless and with the exception of the viruses that cause warts, they do not exhibit symptoms. This is because the immune system is able to fight and clear the infection naturally. In 90% of cases, HPV resolves itself within two years or less; 70% clear within one year.16

However, in a small percentage of individuals, HPV can persist for a longer time and may cause symptoms to appear, particularly when the immune system weakens. High-risk HPV strains may also cause lesions that sometimes can evolve into cervical cancer if not given proper treatment.17

Here’s What You Need to Know About HPV

There’s a great deal of misinformation surrounding HPV, and for this reason many people decide to get vaccinated against this infection. But there’s more to the HPV vaccine than you think and, in fact, this vaccine could cause you more harm than good.

Read these pages to get a better insight about HPV. Discover what causes it, the known risk factors for it and what you can do to protect yourself from this infection — and make sure that your body resolves it naturally. Share this information with your family and friends as well.

MORE ABOUT HPV

HPV: Introduction

What Is HPV?

Oral HPV

How Is HPV Transmitted?

HPV Vaccine

HPV in Men

HPV in Women

HPV Types

HPV Causes

HPV Symptoms

HPV Warts

HPV Treatment

HPV Test

How to Get Rid of HPV

Living with HPV

Does HPV Go Away?

How Do You Get HPV?

Is HPV Curable?

Is HPV Contagious?

How Long Does HPV Last?

HPV FAQ

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What Is HPV?