Can I Have HPV Without Knowing It?

Many people don’t realize when they have an HPV infection. Most types of the virus do not cause any symptoms. Plus, testing options are not available for men. Learn more about how HPV works in your body and possible symptoms that could appear as a result of an infection.

HPV Signs & Symptoms

There are over 100 types of HPV, many of which do not cause any symptoms or health problems. In most cases, the body’s immune system is able to suppress the infection on its own. In fact, about nine out of 10 new HPV infections (including those caused by high-risk HPV types) become undetectable within two years. Usually, the infection is suppressed within the first six months of infection. Because most of the virus types don’t cause any HPV infection symptoms, you probably won’t realize you have it.

Keep in mind that HPV can spread even when no symptoms are present. To reduce your risk of passing or contracting an HPV infection, consider practicing safer sex by using condoms and limiting your number of sexual partners.

HPV-Related Health Issues

In some cases, people develop HPV genital warts as a result of their infection. These warts usually appear on or around the genitals, but they can also develop on the anus, mouth, or throat depending on where the infection occurred. The warts usually appear within weeks or months after becoming infected, though they could show up years after exposure. These warts typically appear as raised or flat bumps. They can be large or small in size, and some are grouped in clusters that look like pieces of cauliflower.

Infections that cause warts usually involve low-risk HPV types that won’t result in any further health problems. If the warts don’t go away on their own, there are treatment options to get rid of them, including topical medications or surgical removal.

Some high-risk HPV types may persist and lead to the development of precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or throat. You’ll need to see a doctor to have a Pap test or another type of cancer screening in order to find out if abnormal cells have appeared.

Keep in mind that warts, precancers, and cancers are not HPV symptoms. Instead, they are health problems that may have developed as a result of an HPV infection.

How to Know If You Have HPV

An HPV test for women can be used to find out if you have an infection. This screening is usually done at the same time as a Pap test. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 21 through 29 get Pap tests every three years, with a follow-up HPV test scheduled only if they receive abnormal results. Women ages 30 through 65 are encouraged to get a Pap test and HPV test every five years according to these guidelines.

Unfortunately, there is no HPV test for men. However, both men and women can pursue additional screenings. If an individual is at an increased risk for HPV-associated anal cancer, for example, a doctor can swab the anal lining or use a scope to view the anal cavity. Talk to your health care provider if you’re curious about additional cancer screenings.

Sources
  1. Chapter 5: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – Manual for the Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017.
  2. HPV and HPV Testing: American Cancer Society, 2017.
  3. HPV and Cancer: American Cancer Society, 2017.
  4. Anal Cancer: American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.