HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. It’s the most common STI, and most people don’t know they have it. In most cases your body will get rid of HPV within a few years after infection.
If HPV doesn’t clear, it can cause genital warts and some kinds of cancer. These include cervical, anal, vaginal, penile and oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancers.
Genital warts appear as a bump or bumps in the genital area. These can be round or cauliflower-shaped, raised or flat and any size. They will usually disappear on their own, but your doctor can remove them with medications, freezing, laser or surgery (for large warts, or if treatment’s failed).
If you have a cervix, routine Pap tests can detect abnormal cells before they become cancer (known as “pre-cancerous cells”). These can then be treated, which prevents them developing into cancer.
Anal Pap tests are recommended for people living with HIV, because this group has a higher risk for anal cancers. They’re also recommended if you’ve previously had abnormal anal Pap test results. You can talk to your doctor about screening if these applies to you.
How it’s transmitted
HPV is transmitted through oral, anal or vaginal sex. It can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. This can happen even when someone doesn’t have symptoms.
Vaccines can help protect you against the types of HPV that are most commonly associated with genital warts and cancers. They can’t cure a strain of HPV if you already have it, but they can protect you from others. The most recent vaccine is called Gardasil 9, which protects against nine strains of HPV. For adults, this vaccine has three doses over a minimum period of six months.
You can get HPV vaccines at pharmacies and sexual health clinics. Depending on your age and province, it may be covered by provincial insurance. This guide has more information. If you are paying for the HPV vaccine, it can also be covered by private drug plans.
Medical sources for this article include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Canada.