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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STD) and is usually referred to as genital warts. These warts may grow on the penis, anus and inside or outside of the vagina.

How do I get HPV?

You can get HPV from direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex. However, you don’t need to have penetrative sex to pass the infection on because HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact.

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Do I have HPV?

HPV infection is different for each person. In fact, some people with HPV don’t know they have it because they never get visible warts.

The warts are usually painless, but you may notice some itching or redness. Occasionally, they can cause bleeding. The warts may look like small, hard spots or like cauliflower-shaped lumps on or near your genitals.

The cervical screening test is done to detect HPV.

The cervical screening test usually takes around five minutes to carry out. An instrument called a speculum will be gently inserted into your vagina to hold the walls of your vagina open so that your cervix is visible. A small soft brush will be used to take some cells from the surface of your cervix.

The sample of cervical cells will then be sent to a laboratory and examined under a microscope to see whether there are any abnormal cells.

Some women may find the procedure a bit uncomfortable or embarrassing, but for most women it is not painful.

If the test picks up abnormalities in the cells in your cervix, it may be recommended that you have treatment to remove them, or further tests in a few months to see if they return to normal on their own.

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How do you treat HPV?

There are several methods:

  • Specific medications are applied directly on the warts on a weekly basis.
  • Freeze the warts using a form of dry ice or nitrogen.
  • Burn the warts using laser treatment.
  • Have them surgically removed.

If left untreated, HPV can change new growing cells into abnormal or pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. A simple Pap test can detect the changes in the cervix. It’s important for women to have regular Pap tests, especially if you’re having sex.

How do I prevent HPV?

HPV vaccinations:

HPV vaccines are designed to try to help protect you from developing certain types of HPV infection. They are likely to be of most benefit before you have had sexual contact. HPV vaccines cannot protect against all types of HPV. If you are a woman and have received HPV vaccinations, you should still attend cervical screening (smear tests) as the vaccines do not guarantee that you will not develop cervical cancer in the future.

It is not clear if there would be any benefit in receiving HPV vaccination if you:

  • are a man
  • are a woman too old to have been included in the NHS vaccination schedule
  • have already had sex