HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. Around 70-80% of all women will be infected by HPV before the age of 50.
There are different kinds of HPV. High risk HPV can cause cancer, low risk HPV merely causes benign lesions such as (genital) warts. However, not every infection leads to health problems and many of them show no symptoms.
HPV in the genital area can cause abnormal cell changes of the cervix. We can detect them with the so- called PAP smear (swab taken from the surface of the cervix), which should be done every one to three years.
Certain HPVs can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, anus, penis and in the throat. This happens commonly, when an HPV infection AND abnormal cell changes persist for a long time.
Most of the HPV infections will clear themselves within two years. As soon as the infection is gone, the abnormal cell changes will normalise as well.
HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact. Transmission through household items such as toilets, towels and baths are not documented.
There is no treatment for HPV, but the health problems (abnormal cell changes, genital warts) associated with HPV can be treated.
Condoms are helpful for prevention, but do not protect 100% from HPV infection as the virus can also be transmitted by skin to skin contact. However, the condom reduces the risk and protects also from other sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV.
Vaccination reduces the risk for a HPV infection and the associated health problems. It should be done before the first sexual contact, between the ages of 9 and 26. Vaccination cannot cure an actual HPV infection. Sometimes, your doctor might still recommend to have a vaccination after treatment of HPV related diseases.