HPV infection is caused by a large group of viruses and affects the skin and the mucous membranes. Infections of the genital area are common and highly contagious, and can cause genital warts and cervical cancer.
Most people infected with HPV have no symptoms and many never develop any health problems as a result of the virus. Others may be found to have the infection if genital warts or verrucas develop, or through screening - such as a cervical smear test. It can take many years for cervical cancer to develop in a healthy individual.
How do you catch Human papilloma virus (HPV)?
Most cases are spread through sexual intercourse and skin to skin contact of the genital areas. As an infected person may have no symptoms, it can be impossible to know when the infection was caught.
It is impossible to state an exact incubation period for HPV as symptoms, such as genital warts, may take months or years to develop.
HPV infection is usually discovered through investigation of a related illness (e.g. genital warts) or through a smear test. There is no blood test for HPV.
Sexually active individuals can lower the risk of catching HPV by using a condom, however due to the risk of transmission from skin to skin contact, this may not provide full protection.
There is no treatment for the virus itself but warts, verrucas or HPV related cancers can be treated if diagnosed early. Women are advised to attend for routine cervical screening in order to detect any precancerous cells early. There is no reliable test for HPV in men at the current time.