What is human papillomavirus?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 100 viruses that are usually spread through sexual contact. HPV infection is extremely common; there are more than 14 million new infections in the US each year and more than 80 percent of sexually active men and women will get it in their lifetime. Most new infections occur in teens and young adults. HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer and can also cause cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. The virus also causes genital warts. People can pass the virus on even if they have no symptoms and even if years have passed since they were first infected.
Most people infected with HPV have no symptoms and will clear the virus within a few years. However, some people will get visible genital warts that are usually soft, moist, pink or fleshy colored swellings. The warts can be removed by medications or other treatments. They may also resolve without treatment. In either case, disappearance of the warts does not mean the virus has left the body.
Certain types of HPV are associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer. Often, the first indication a woman gets that she is carrying HPV may be when she receives abnormal Pap test results.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 11- to 12-year-olds get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. The second dose should be given 6-12 months after the first dose. Three doses are recommended for those that initiate the vaccination series after age 15 years, and for those who are immunocompromised.
Both males and females up to age 26 years who were not adequately vaccinated should receive catch-up HPV vaccination.
Adults age 27-45 years should talk to a healthcare professional about whether HPV vaccination is right for them. Shared clinical decision-making is recommended because some individuals who are not adequately vaccinated might benefit from vaccination
View additional information on the CDC recommendations.
HPV vaccines are safe and effective. The vaccine have been tested in thousands of people around the world. The studies have shown no serious side effects. The most common side effects are usually mild and include soreness at the injection site, fever, headache, and nausea.
Disease and Vaccine Facts
- FACT: In addition to cervical cancer, HPV causes penile, anal, mouth and throat cancers.
- FACT: HPV infection is very common. There are about 14 million new cases in the US annually.
- FACT: Most women find out they have HPV because of abnormal Pap test results. A Pap test is the primary tool used to detect cervical cancer or pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.
- FACT: Most HPV infections occur without symptoms and resolve on their own in healthy, non-immunosuppressed individuals.
- FACT: HPV is spread through genital or skin-to-skin contact. The virus can be spread even when no symptoms (e.g., genital warts) are evident.
- FACT: Individuals already infected with HPV should still get vaccinated because the vaccine may protect against additional HPV strains. However, for maximum benefit, vaccination should occur before an individual becomes sexually active and exposed to the virus.
- FACT: The HPV vaccine does not treat HPV infection. There is no cure for HPV infection.
- FACT: Vaccinated women should continue to get regularly scheduled Pap screenings because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types.
For more information, speak with a healthcare professional.
A fact sheet on vaccines for adults
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID): Radio PSA highlighting HPV as a cause of throat cancer in males, with a strong recommendation for vaccination to prevent HPV infection
NFID radio PSAs featuring real people telling their stories about the potentially devastating consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases and the importance of adult vaccination.