Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human Papillomavirus HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. In fact, nearly everyone who is sexually active will contract the virus at some point in their lifetimes if they are not vaccinated. While misinformation and fear-mongering tactics abound for STIs, our most powerful ally in prevention and treatment of these diseases is education. So then, what causes HPV? What health risks are involved? And what methods of treatment and prevention are available today?

Causes of HPV

Sexual Activity

HPV is spread through oral, anal, and vaginal sex with someone who has the virus. They don’t have to display any symptoms (such as warts) in order for the virus to spread. It can take years for any symptoms or visible signs of the virus to develop, which is one of the reasons it spreads so quickly to so many people.

Skin-to-Skin Contact

In addition to sexual contact, the virus can also spread through regular skin-to-skin contact. While your skin often acts as a giant shield against unwanted organisms entering the bloodstream, cuts, abrasions, and other damages to your skin can let the virus into your body. Skin-to-skin contact with someone who has warts due to HPV can also spread the virus, whether or not there is any abrasion to the skin.

HPV Symptoms & Health Risks

As mentioned, HPV often goes undetected if there are no visible signs of infection. More often than not, the body defeats the virus before it produces any warts, meaning that an infected person may never be aware that they had the virus to begin with. When symptoms do develop, they can occur even years after contraction. If the virus progresses beyond the early stages, it can cause visible symptoms and even more serious conditions, including:


While most frequently associated with genital warts, HPV can also cause other types of warts to develop, such as plantar warts, flat warts, and common warts. All of these are contagious and can spread the virus through skin-to-skin contact. It’s important to know that the types of HPV that cause warts are not the same as those that cause cancer.

Oral and Respiratory Lesions

Similar to warts, HPV can cause lesions to develop in the mouth and respiratory system. These are transmitted through oral sex and can be found on the tongue, tonsils, larynx, nose, or soft palate.


Most types of HPV don’t cause cancer. However, nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be traced back to HPV. Cancers due to HPV can develop years or even decades after contracting the virus, making it even more important to get regular screenings for early detection. HPV has also been linked to cancers of the mouth, anus, vagina, penis, and more. As mentioned, types of HPV that cause cancer are not the same as those that cause warts to develop.

Pregnancy Risks

Pregnancy does not protect the body against HPV. It can cause abnormal growths to develop in the cervix, and in some cases can even spread to the baby if you have warts connected with the virus.

HPV Prevention & Treatment

In most cases, HPV will go away on its own without causing any warts or cancer to develop. That said, prevention is still the best option. Methods of HPV prevention include:

HPV Vaccination

The simplest way to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated. HPV vaccination is available for individuals between nine and 26 years old. Currently, doctors recommend HPV vaccination for children 11-12 years old as a part of their routine vaccination regimen. For people 27 and older the vaccination will provide less benefit. This is because the vaccine does not respond as well for older individuals, but also because of the high likelihood that sexually active adults in this age range have already been exposed to the virus, which mitigates its effectiveness.

Use Protection If Sexually Active

Latex condoms can prevent the covered areas from spreading or becoming infected with HPV. However, any area not covered will not benefit from condom use, so they are only of limited benefit for HPV prevention.

Screening for cervical cancer

For women 21-65 years old, regular cervical cancer screenings can provide early detection of cancer caused by HPV. While this does not prevent HPV itself, it can discover early signs of cervical cancer and allow for a more effective treatment.

Reducing Number of Sexual Partners

Nearly all sexually active people who have not been vaccinated against HPV will contract it in their lifetimes. This means that the clearest way to reduce the likelihood of infection is to reduce the potential partners who might carry the disease. Being selective about sexual partners or engaging in a mutually monogamous relationship will reduce the odds of getting HPV, though it may not be a solution that works for everyone’s lifestyle.

If You Need STI Testing, a Wellness Exam, or Treatment Advice, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help

At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including well-women’s exams. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.

If you need assistance, call us at (727) 290-6116 or fill out our online contact form.