Different types of HPV infection cause warts on different parts of your body. For example, some types of HPV infection cause plantar warts on the feet, while others cause warts that mostly appear on the face or neck.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.
Who is at risk
HPV infections are common. Risk factors for HPV infection include:
- Number of sexual partners. The more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to contract a genital HPV infection. Having sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners also increases your risk.
- Common warts occur mostly in children. Genital warts occur most often in adolescents and young adults.
- Weakened immune systems. People who have weakened immune systems are at greater risk of HPV infections. Immune systems can be weakened by HIV/AIDS or by immune system-suppressing drugs used after organ transplants.
- Damaged skin. Areas of skin that have been punctured or opened are more prone to develop common warts.
- Personal contact. Touching someone's warts or not wearing protection before contacting surfaces that have been exposed to HPV — such as public showers or swimming pools — might increase your risk of HPV infection.
- Genital warts. These appear as flat lesions, small cauliflower-like bumps or tiny stem-like protrusions. In women, genital warts appear mostly on the vulva but can also occur near the anus, on the cervix or in the vagina.
- In men, genital warts appear on the penis and scrotum or around the anus. Genital warts rarely cause discomfort or pain, though they may itch.
- Common warts. Common warts appear as rough, raised bumps and usually occur on the hands, fingers or elbows. In most cases, common warts are simply unsightly, but they can also be painful or susceptible to injury or bleeding.
- Plantar warts. Plantar warts are hard, grainy growths that usually appear on the heels or balls of your feet. These warts might cause discomfort.
- Flat warts. Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions darker than your skin. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs.
What you can do
Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups. (See “Who should get vaccinated?” below) CDC recommends 11 to 12 year olds get two doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancers caused by HPV. For more information on the recommendations, please see: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/public/index.html
Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening for women aged 21 to 65 years old can prevent cervical cancer.
If you are sexually active:
- Use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV. But HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against getting HPV;
- Be in a mutually monogamous relationship – or have sex only with someone who only has sex with you.
It's difficult to prevent HPV infections that cause common warts. If you have a common wart, you can prevent the spread of the infection and formation of new warts by not picking at a wart and not biting your nails.
To reduce the risk of contracting HPV infections that cause plantar warts, wear shoes or sandals in public pools and locker rooms.
Preventive service at no cost
HPV vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years. All preteens need HPV vaccination so they can be protected from HPV infections that cause cancer.
- Teens and young adults who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also need HPV vaccination.
- Teens and young women can get HPV vaccine until they are 27 years old and young men should get HPV vaccine until they are 22 years old.
- Teens and young men who have sex with other men or who have weakened immune systems should get HPV vaccine until they are 27.
- Transgender individuals should also get HPV vaccine until they are 27.
CDC recommends that 11- to 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart to protect against cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.
- The first dose is routinely recommended at 11-12 years old.
- The second dose of the vaccine should be administered 6 to 12 months after the first dose.
- Vaccination with the two-dose series can be started at age 9 and through age 14.
Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26 years, need three doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancer-causing HPV infection.
- Adolescents aged 9 through 14 years who have already received two doses of HPV vaccine less than 5 months apart, will require a third dose.
- Three doses are recommended for people with weakened immune systems aged 9-26 years.
Why vaccination is important
HPV vaccine offers long-lasting protection against HPV infection and HPV disease. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
What the vaccination is
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Gardasil® 9 for use in the United States that prevents infection with disease-causing HPV types. It prevents infection with HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. It also protects against five additional cancer-causing types (31, 33, 45, 52, and 58).
There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:
Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medication. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number.
Cervical precancer can be treated. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment.
Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early.
Tell your doctor about any severe allergies. Some people should not get some HPV vaccines, including:
- People who have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any ingredient of an HPV vaccine, or to a previous dose of HPV vaccine.
- People who have an allergy to yeast.
Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Many people who get HPV vaccine have no side effects at all. Some people report having very mild side effects, like a sore arm from the shot. The most common side effects of HPV vaccine include:
- Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
- Headache or feeling tired
- Muscle or joint pain
Brief fainting spells and related symptoms (such as jerking movements) can happen after any medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down when getting a shot and staying in that position for about 15 minutes after a vaccination can help prevent fainting and injuries caused by falls.
On very rare occasions, severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions may occur after vaccination. People with severe allergies to any component of a vaccine should not receive that vaccine.