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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that 4 out of 5 (80%) of us will have at some point during our lives. It is passed on through skin-to-skin contact. For genital HPV, this includes:
You are at risk of getting HPV from your first sexual contact, whatever that is – it doesn’t have to be sex that involves putting part of your body into someone's vagina, anus or mouth (penetrative sex). Anybody who has ever had any kind of sexual contact is at risk of getting HPV.
We can have HPV for a long time without knowing about it, so it is hard to know when we got HPV or who we got it from. Remember, having HPV does not mean any partner has been unfaithful.
Your immune system usually gets rid of HPV without treatment. In fact, you may never know you had it!
You can have HPV that does not cause any harm (clinically insignificant) for many years. But in some people, HPV may cause other conditions (clinically significant). The time from getting HPV to developing genital warts, cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer varies.
High-risk HPV has no symptoms, so it is difficult to tell whether you or someone else has it. But there are some ways you can reduce your risk of getting HPV or developing a persistent infection:
If you have a condition that affects your immune system, like HIV, it may be harder for you to get rid of HPV. Speak to your doctor about going for cervical screening (a smear test) once a year.
Even though we can't completely protect against HPV, going for cervical screening can find any changes to cervical cells (abnormalities) early, before they develop.
If you are worried or want to know more about HPV, call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000 so our trained volunteers can support you. Or you can use our Ask the Expert service to get the answers you need for medical professionals.