HPV Key Facts
HPV & Cancer
HPV & Throat Cancer
HPV & Cervical Cancer
HPV & Other Cancers
HPV & Relationships
HPV is thought to be the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world, and most people are infected with HPV at some time in their lives.
HPV is short for human papillomavirus, the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 150 different types that cause infection on the surface of the skin. More than 40 HPV types infect the anogenital area and throat (pharynx and larynx) and the majority are sexually transmitted.
HPV can be present as an infection of the skin which is not visible to the naked eye (subclinical infection). Therefore, many people with genital HPV do not know they have it. The virus can also cause visible genital warts. Warts on other parts of the body, such as the hands, are caused by different types of HPV. A person may be infected with more than one HPV type at the same time.
HPV lives in the surface layers of the skin. HPV infection usually results from direct skin-to-skin contact during intimate sexual contact with someone who has HPV. The virus can be transmitted by penetrative as well as non-penetrative sexual contact (genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, oral-anal).
HPV is not transmitted via blood or body fluids e.g. semen.
Because HPV is so common, having HPV is considered a natural consequence of being sexually active. Almost every person will have HPV on their skin at some point in their life, regardless of sexual practice or sexual preference. It is possible for a person to infect another without even knowing they have the virus. HPV statistics show at least 70% of partners of people with HPV also have the infection.
Without vaccination, 80% of adults will contract this viral infection at some point in their lives. It is nothing to be ashamed about.
It is possible to test for some types of HPV. HPV can lie dormant for months, or even many years, before the emergence of genital warts or cervical abnormalities. There is no way to know which partner it came from or how long ago. Having HPV does not mean that a person or their partner is having sex outside the current relationship.
Some experts believe that in rare cases HPV may be transmitted through non-sexual contact, for example, an object that carries infectious material. However, this is still an area of controversy. In the end, science simply doesn’t have explanations for these rare instances of possible non-sexual transmission.
It is possible to test for some types of HPV. As of September 2023, the primary test for cervical screening in Aotearoa is an HPV test, done using a vaginal swab. This particular test is looking for specific, high-risk HPV types.
The purpose of the HPV test in cervical screening is to identify those at a higher risk of cervical cancer at an early stage.
HPV testing is not generally part of other routine sexual health check ups for males or females. This is in part because in some people the virus is "hibernating" at levels that are not detectable by testing.
The answer is yes, and no.
There are links between cancers such as cervical cancer and HPV, but please be reassured that a diagnosis of HPV infection does not equate to cancer. HPV infections are divided into low-risk HPV (lrHPV) types, which are not associated with pre-cancer or cancer, and high-risk HPV (hrHPV) types, which are associated with pre-cancer and cancer. Warty lesions in the anogenital and oral areas are usually caused by low-risk (lrHPV). There are treatment options available for high grade cervical abnormalities.
No treatment is available for HPV that is 'silent' i.e. has no symptoms. However the majority of HPV is naturally cleared by the body's immune system within 1-2 years.
A key point is that HPV is preventable. Vaccination against HPV infection has been available for many years, and protects you from developing HPV cancers. Immunisation against HPV infection is available in the form of the nine valent vaccine (HPV9).