HPV, Human Papillomavirus

HPV is short for human papillomavirus. HPVs are a large group of related viruses. Each virus in the group is given a number, which is called an HPV type.

HPV can be passed from one person to another by skin-to-skin contact, such as occurs with sexual activity. The main way HPV is spread is through sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. HPV can be spread even when an infected person has no visible signs or symptoms.

HPV infection is very common. Most men and women who have ever had sex get at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives. Anyone who has had sex can get HPV, even if it was only with only one person, but infections are more likely in people who have had many sex partners.  Even if a person delays sexual activity until marriage, or only has one partner, they are still at risk of HPV infection if their partner has been exposed.

Human papillomavirus infection is the most important risk factor when considering cancers that are caused by it. HPV vaccines can prevent infection with certain types of HPV and is the best way to prevent it.

Vaccines are approved for use in males and females. They can only be used to prevent HPV infection – they don’t help treat an existing infection.

To work best, the HPV vaccines should be given between the ages of 9 and 12. Teens and young adults ages 13 through 26 years who have not been vaccinated or who have not received all of their shots should get the vaccine as soon as possible. Vaccination of young adults will not prevent as many cancers as vaccination of children and teens. HPV vaccination is not recommended for persons older than 26 years.