Anybody who has ever been sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV. Genital HPV is transmitted primarily by skin-to-skin contact, including genital-to-genital contact, vaginal and anal intercourse, and oral sex. The time from exposure to the virus to the development of warts or cervical disease is highly variable and the virus can remain dormant in some people for long periods of time. Often it is not possible to determine exactly when or from whom the infection originated.
High-risk HPV infections are very common and infected individuals will have no symptoms; therefore, it is very difficult to tell whether an individual is infected. There is no treatment for a high-risk HPV infection; usually the body’s own immune system will clear the infection.
Practising safe sex through the use of condoms can help reduce the risk of being infected with HPV, but it will not completely eradicate the risk as HPV lives on the skin in and around the whole genital area .
- Winter RL et al., 2003. Genital human papillomavirus infection: incidence and risk factors in a cohort of female university students. American Journal of Epidemiology 157 (3), 218–226.