HPV - Human Papillomavirus

HPV is one of the most common STI in Australia. HPV is a group of viruses that cause warts. There are over 100 types with some causing the common warts found on hands and feet, while others are responsible for genital warts. It affects both males and females.

Page last updated: 20 July 2014

Fast facts

  • Following the introduction of vaccination against HPV (Human Papillomavirus), there has been a reduction in genital warts in young females and young heterosexual and bisexual males.
  • The proportion of young females aged 21 years or younger who were diagnosed with genital warts decreased from 12.1% in 2007 to 1.1% in 20121.
  • HPV can progress to cervical, anogenital and (rarely) some types of oropharyngeal cancers.

Causes and reducing risk factors

HPV is usually spread by skin-to-skin contact, or during vaginal or anal sex without the correct use of a condom. Always use a condom with water-based lubricant to avoid getting HPV.

Identifying the symptoms

  • Invisible

    Even if you can’t see visible warts the virus can still be spread. If you have had unprotected sex, see your doctor about a test.
  • For males

    • Itching in the genital area.
    • Raised, flat, single or multiple warts and often have a cauliflower-like appearance. The warts may be itchy but are usually painless.
  • For females

    • Itching in the genital area.
    • Raised, flat, single or multiple warts and often have a cauliflower-like appearance. The warts may be itchy but are usually painless.

Dangers if not treated

The most common cancer caused by HPV is cervical cancer.

HPV can cause cancers of the head and throat.

Getting checked

There is no routine test for genital warts but your doctor will make a diagnosis by discussing your sexual history and giving you an examination to identify any warts. Also, for females, a pap smear can detect changes in the cervix that might suggest infection with HPV that could lead to cancer.

There is a list of Public Sexual Health Clinics across Australian provided by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Treatment is easy

A vaccine can be obtained from your doctor. Information on the HPV vaccination is available from the Immunisation Australian Program.

The good news is that warts may clear themselves up after a few months. Otherwise, warts can be removed using creams or can be frozen off. However, warts may come back and need further treatment.

Your responsibilities

If you have HPV it is your responsibility to let all your sexual partners from at least the past six months know so that they can be tested and treated if needed. For advice on how to make it easier to tell them visit the let them know website.

In most cases you’re not obliged to notify teachers or your boss if you’ve been diagnosed with an STI, but there are some rare exceptions for certain professionals who have been diagnosed with a blood-borne virus like HIV or hepatitis B. Ask your doctor for advice if you are unsure.

Prevention tips

Condoms can reduce your risk but only protect the skin that is covered. Talk to your doctor about vaccination.

[1] HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia –Annual Surveillance Report 2013.