About the human papillomavirus

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection in females and males.

Page last updated: 08 September 2014

  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV that can affect different parts of the body, including the genital area.
  • Genital HPV is easily passed on during any intimate sexual contact between people.
  • Most people will have HPV at some time in their lives and never know it.
  • Most HPV infections clear up by themselves without causing any problems. Infections can cause cervical abnormalities, which, if they persist, can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Types 16 and 18 are most commonly associated with cervical cancer. More information is available in The link between cervical cancer and HPV.
  • It is important to remember that most women who have HPV clear the virus and do not go on to develop cervical cancer.

How did I get HPV?

Genital HPV is spread through genital skin contact. Condoms are an important barrier to many sexually transmitted infections, but offer limited protection against HPV as they do not cover all of the genital skin.

Because the virus can be hidden in a person’s cells for months or years, for many people it is probably impossible to determine when and from whom HPV was contracted.

Should I be vaccinated for HPV?

The best time to be vaccinated is before a person becomes sexually active. Vaccination will not alter or treat any pre-existing HPV infection.

More information on the HPV vaccination program is available on the Immunise Australia Program website.

Can HPV be treated?

No. There is no treatment for the virus. For most women, their immune system will clear the virus, similar to getting rid of a common cold.

Do I still require screening if I have been vaccinated for HPV?

Yes. The HPV vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV infection that are known to cause cervical cancer.

Should I have a special test for HPV?

HPV tests are available in Australia but are currently only subsidised by the government when used as part of a ‘test of cure’ for women who have been treated for a high-grade cervical abnormality. The HPV test is done to make sure the virus has gone from your body.

HPV tests are currently being considered as part of the Renewal of the National Cervical Screening Program.

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