Get informed : Sexuality

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
What is it?
•    HPV is an infection caused by a virus.

•    HPV is the virus responsible for condyloma (genital and anal warts), precancerous lesions and cancer of the cervix, anus and other sex organs.

•    HPV is the most widespread STI in North America and is highly contagious.

•    There are over 100 types of HPV including more than 40 types that are sexually transmissible.

•    Some types pose little risk in terms of developing cancer, whereas others pose a higher risk.

•    Up to 75% of sexually active girls and guys will develop at least one HPV infection in their lifetime, without it necessarily posing a risk of cancer.


•    In most cases, HPV infections do not cause any symptoms so many people can spread HPV unknowingly because it is very contagious.

•    In many cases, these innocuous infections disappear in less than two years. However, HPV can remain in the body and reappear several years later.

•    HPV types 6 and 11 can cause condyloma (genital and anal warts).

•    In girls, condyloma appear on the vulva, urethra, cervix, anus and thighs.

•    In guys, condyloma appear on the penis, scrotum, anus and thighs.

•    Condyloma are visible to the naked eye and look like pimples or small cauliflower-shaped bumps. Often they aren’t painful but they can sometimes cause irritation, slight bleeding or a burning sensation during anal sex or when passing stool.

•    Condyloma may appear anywhere from several months up to several years after contact with the infected person.

•    Condyloma can last years before disappearing.

•    85% of people affected by HPV will rid the virus from their body over time, while 15% will remain HPV carriers their entire life.

•    HPV types 16 and 18 can cause precancerous lesions, cancer of the cervix and other genital cancers, the symptoms of which are not visible to the naked eye.

•    A gynaecological (Pap test) or urogenital exam is required for diagnosis. It’s important that this test be performed regularly (every year).

•    Condyloma are visible to the naked eye when they appear on the external genitalia.

How do you contract it?

•    HPV spreads mainly through vaginal, oral or anal sexual contact with or without penetration.

•    HPV can also be transmitted through basic skin contact with an infected area. This means you can get HPV from engaging in fellatio or mutual oral sex even if you’ve never had sex with penetration.

•    During childbirth, the mother can transmit the infection to the baby.

•    Having one infection doesn’t prevent you from getting reinfected.

How do you treat it?

•    There is a vaccine to prevent the most common types of HPV (type 6, 11, 16 and 18). Ask your physician for more information about this.

•    At the moment, there is no effective treatment to provide a definitive cure for this infection.

•    Your doctor can prescribe treatments for getting rid of the condyloma. These treatments last approximately 6 to 8 months. However, even after getting rid of the condyloma, you still have the virus. This means the condyloma may reappear and that you can spread the virus to your partner.

How do you prevent the infection from spreading?
•    Avoid sexual relations as soon as any condyloma appear or as soon as you are diagnosed, because condoms and dental dams do not provide full protection since they don’t cover all areas of the body that could be infected.

•    Avoid sharing sex accessories, and be sure to wash them after each use.

•    Inform your sexual partners so that they can consult a physician to check for STIs, even if they don’t have any symptoms.
How can you protect yourself?
•    Vaccination (preventive measure)

•    Abstinence (not having sex)

•    Appropriate use of a condom or dental dam during vaginal, anal or oral sex can partially protect you from HPV, but doesn’t provide full protection, depending on the location of the virus (e.g. anus and thighs)

•    Avoid all contact with an infected person’s lesions

•    Limit your number of partners

•    Find out about your partners’ sexual past (careful: this is no guarantee!)

•    Undergo regular screening tests if you think you are at risk

•    Consult a physician if any of your partners have an STI

•    Check your genitals regularly for visible signs and symptoms

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