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HPV is the acronym for the human papillomavirus, which is typically spread through direct skin-to-skin contact. It's the most common sexually transmitted disease, and in many cases, does not cause symptoms, so it's no surprise that at least 20 million people in the United States are infected. There is no cure for HPV -- treatment typically involves managing any symptoms that do appear while the body fights the infection.

What Is HPV?

Human papillomaviruses, or HPVs, are a group of viruses that can infect the skin and mucous membranes of both men and women. They got their name because certain types may cause warts, known medically as papillomas. But HPV is also the most common type of sexually transmitted disease (STD).
At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get genital HPV at some time in their lives. In addition, at least 80 percent of women will have been infected by genital HPV by the time they turn 50. Approximately 5.5 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV infections are reported every year in the United States. At least 20 million people are already infected.

Types of Human Papillomavirus

There are over 100 different types of human papillomaviruses. Over 30 types are transmitted sexually.
Most people infected with HPV never develop any symptoms. But there are a number of conditions that HPV can cause. This includes:
Because certain types increase the risk for cancer, research scientists have separated the types into high-risk HPV and low-risk HPV. High-risk HPV may cause abnormal Pap smear results and could lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. Low-risk HPV may also cause abnormal Pap smear results or genital warts.
(Click High-Risk HPV for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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