Contact your Department of Public Health

Follow your Department of Public Health on DPH Facebook Page or DPH Twitter Site


Disease Control

HPV - Human Papillomavirus Genital Warts Communicable Disease Facts


Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

There are more than 100 types of human papillomaviruses (HPV). Some cause various warts, and others are closely associated with genital cancers. Approximately 30 of these types infect the genital area. It is estimated that 5 million Americans are newly infected with HPV each year.

What is HPV?

HPV is the name of a large group of over 100 viruses. About 30 of these infect the genital area. Some, called "high-risk" types, are associated with abnormal Pap smear tests in women and cervical cancer. Other types, commonly called "low-risk", cause genital warts. The types that cause genital warts are different than the type that causes warts on the hands and feet.

How is HPV spread?

HPV is transmitted during sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Genital warts are usually spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse. Genital warts are contagious. Very rarely, genital warts can spread to the fetus during birth. It is possible to spread HPV when there are no symptoms.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

*Important: Much of the time, HPV can be present with no symptoms. Pap smears may detect abnormal cell changes in infected women. Sometimes, genital warts can be present without any visible changes in the skin. Symptoms may also be bumps or growth around the genital area. They may also occur in and around the mouth. These bumps usually occur in groups that can be very small or in large quantities.

How serious is HPV?

Certain types of HPV are closely associated with cervical cancer in women, which could be fatal. Other types of HPV cause genital warts which are treatable, but not curable. The virus can stay in the body forever.

How is HPV diagnosed?

A pap smear may help detect abnormal cell changes in a woman's cervix. A new test is available to identify specific types of HPV when a woman's Pap smear is abnormal*. An examination of tissue samples and visual examination can help diagnose genital warts.

*This test is not available in St. Louis County STD clinics.

Is HPV treatable/curable?

HPV is not curable. Women with positive results for "high-risk" types of HPV should receive routine gynecological care. Genital warts are not curable. There are treatments available for removing genital warts. Having the warts removed does not mean that you cannot continue to spread them.

Can I have other sexually transmitted diseases at the same time?

Yes. You can have other sexually transmitted diseases at the same time you are infected with genital warts.

Where can I learn more information about HPV and genital warts?

You can click on our Resource link for further information. The following resources can be contacted for further information relating to HPV and genital warts. National STD and AIDS hotlines at 1-800-342-2437 or 1-800-227-8922. These hotlines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information you may use the following links: