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In most cases of HPV infection there are no symptoms, so you may not even know you have it. Some people may get genital warts; others may be at risk of developing cervical and other cancers. 

Did you know?

  • HPV infection is very common with nearly all the population having an HPV infection at some time in their lifetime.1
  • Most infections occur around the time a person becomes sexually active.
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What is it?

HPV infection is very common in both men and women and is transmitted through sexual contact. Of those infected, most initial infections generally occur shortly after becoming sexually active. Nearly all the general population will be infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives.1

Most genital HPV infections clear naturally within 12 to 24 months. However, in a small number of people, the virus remains for longer. These people are at risk of developing certain types of cancers, including cervical cancer in women, which is the most common HPV-related cancer in Australia.

There are over 100 different types of HPV, some types of HPV are considered ‘high risk’, linked to the development of cancer. Others are 'low risk' and usually associated with non-cancerous lesions, such as genital warts. It is important to remember that not all HPV infections lead to cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Most genital HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and will clear on their own – in these cases, people may not even know they have it.

In a small number of women, infection with 'high-risk' HPV types can cause changes to cells in the cervix which, if left untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.

In addition to cervical cancer, HPV infection can also lead to head and neck cancer as well as other diseases of the genital region including vulvaI, vaginal, penile and anal cancer, as well as genital warts. Genital warts can appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. There are usually no symptoms associated with cancer, but some people may experience: bleeding after sex, pain during sex, abnormal period, vaginal bleeding or discharge or pain in the pelvis.   

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following HPV infection. Please speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about HPV infection.

How is it spread?

HPV is spread through most types of sexual activity with a person who has the virus. In rare cases, the virus can also spread with non-sexual activity, such as during childbirth.

Given that most people don’t experience symptoms with HPV, they don’t know they are infected and can unknowingly spread the disease.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has any kind of sexual contact could get HPV. The risk of infection increases with the number of sexual partners you have.

Other people may also be at greater risk of HPV infection. Please speak to a healthcare professional regarding your individual circumstances.

The HPV Cervical Screening Test

In Australia, it’s recommended that all women aged 25 to 74 years have HPV Cervical Screening Tests (new test introduced in December 2017, to replace Pap Smear) to detect the human papillomavirus. The first of these tests is due two years after your last Pap Smear. After that, you only need the test every five years if your result is normal.

Prevention and Treatment options

  • Adolescents and Adults

    The risk of HPV infection can be reduced through;

    • using protection during sexual contact with new partners
    • having regular cervical screening tests
    • immunisation

    Current HPV vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV infection.  They will also not have any effect on HPV infections acquired before immunisation. So, although the risk may be reduced, it is still possible to develop HPV-related abnormalities, including genital warts or cervical cancer, even after being immunised. It is important that women continue to have regular cervical screening tests, regardless of whether or not they have been immunised.

    There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the problems that HPV can cause. Treatments will vary depending on the symptoms and type of HPV-related abnormality.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about HPV prevention and treatment options.

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References

  1. Centre for disease control and prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/whatishpv.html (accessed September 2020)

PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190036 Date of GSK Approval: January 2021