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Is HPV an STI?

9th June 2020

When people think of sexually transmitted infections, they often think of Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and HIV. But actually, the most common STI is one that people with forget or don’t know very much about and that’s HPV.

What is HPV?

HPV (human paillimovirus) is the most common STI and it’s spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex. There are a number of different kinds of HPV and some types can cause issues like genital warts and cancer.

One of the main reasons for the spread of HPV is that it often doesn’t come with any signs or symptoms, and an infected person can pass it on even if they are asymptomatic. There is also no approved check to find out your HPV status, so this is not done during a sexual health check.

Does HPV cause health problems?

Even though the infection is extremely common, it usually goes away on its own without causing any symptoms of health problems. Depending on the kind of HPV that you have though, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.

Any health problems caused by HPV don’t necessarily appear straight away, and it can be months or even years before signs show so you may never know when exactly you contracted the infection.

Genital warts are normally diagnosed by a healthcare professional just by looking at the genital area, as these often look similar and are normally raised fleshy lumps or bumps that can appear cauliflower-like.

Does HPV cause cancer?

HPV can cause cervical cancer, as well as cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also lead to cancer in the tonsils, tongue and back of the throat.

Having HPV doesn’t automatically mean that you are going to develop cancer. Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV, and not all HPV causes cervical cancer. The types of HPV that can cause cancers are also not the same as the ones that can cause genital warts, so you shouldn’t be disproportionately worried if you have genital warts.

How can I prevent HPV?

HPV is passed on through vaginal, oral and anal sex, but not necessarily only unprotected sex. This is because HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom, so it can still be passed on. However, using condoms when you have sex can lower your chances of contracting HPV, as well as other STI’s like Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and HIV.

You should also get the HPV vaccine in order to reduce your risk. It’s safe, effective and can protect against disease and cancers. This is rolled out to women around the age of menstruation, but you can get this at a later age if you missed out when you were younger. For more advice, speak to your GP if you’re unsure whether or not you’ve had this.

It’s also important to attend your smear test when contacted. These begin as a routine from the age of 25 and they can help to detect abnormal cells at an early stage, including those caused by HPV. If you do contract a cancer-causing strain of HPV then catching it early is key to treating it.