In general, it is transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact. For example, genital HPV is spread through genital-to-genital contact, most commonly through vaginal or anal intercourse. HPV may also spread through touching something that has been contaminated with the virus and then touching the skin, although how often this occurs, if at all, is not known.
Transmission most often occurs from another person. It is possible for a person to infect themselves, although this is thought to be a rare method of transmission.
It is not known if human papillomavirus can be spread when the levels of the virus in the body are very low or undetectable.
As mentioned, HPV got its name because it can cause warts. However, most people infected with HPV never develop symptoms, including warts. If someone does develop symptoms, the exact type will depend on which HPV type is transmitted and the location of transmission.
Most infected people are unaware that they are infected, but they can still transmit the virus to a sex partner. In rare cases, a pregnant woman can pass the virus to her baby during a vaginal delivery. A baby that is exposed to HPV can develop warts in the throat or voice box, but this is rare.
Most cases of HPV in women are suspected following an abnormal Pap test. If a woman is age 30 or older, her healthcare provider may also do an HPV test along with the woman's Pap test. This is a DNA test that detects most of the high-risk types of HPV and helps with screening for cervical cancer. If a woman is younger than 30 years old and has had a borderline-abnormal Pap test result, her healthcare provider may give her an HPV test as well. No HPV tests are currently available for men. HPV may also be diagnosed if warts are visible.
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