From First Contact to Infection; How Does HPV Spread?

Oct 27, 2023 5 Minute Read

How much do you know about containing the spread of HPV? Read up on transmission routes and preventive measures to help protect yourself against HPV infection.

You may have heard that HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive system worldwide. In fact, this virus is so prevalent that 8/10 unvaccinated adults will develop an HPV infection in their lifetime.

 

But what exactly is this virus and how does it spread? Let’s take a look.

Basics of HPV

 

Human Papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV,  is a common viral infection of the reproductive tract that can infect different parts of the body, including the genital area. Most sexually active individuals will come into contact with this virus at some point in their lives.

 

However, the virus often functions silently, and does not lead to any visible symptoms. This means that you may unknowingly become a carrier of the virus.


 

How does HPV spread?

 

The most common HPV transmission route is through sexual contact. It may spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected individual. Sexually active individuals can get HPV even if they are in a monogamous relationship. Here are the different HPV transmission routes in brief:

 

  • Genital-genital contact
  • Oral-genital contact 
  • Anal-genital contact
  • Oral-anal contact

 

HPV can also spread through close skin-to-skin contact during sex. There is no difference between low-risk and high-risk HPV transmission routes, they can both spread through sexual contact.
 

It is important to note that HPV can be transmitted even when an individual shows no clear signs or symptoms of infection. You also can develop symptoms years after contact with the infection. This makes it hard to narrow down how you first got infected.


 

Can HPV spread without sexual contact?

 

While rare, it is possible for HPV to spread without sexual contact. There are 2 potential ways how this could happen:
 

1. Self-inoculation: Self-inoculation is when you unknowingly transmit a virus to yourself by touching infected skin or objects. For example, if you come into contact with HPV through a contaminated object, the virus could then transmit to yourself or to a potential partner.

 

2. Mother-to-child during birth: It is possible for the infection to spread from mother to child through the amniotic fluid or the placenta. Vertical transmission may also be possible during natural childbirth, through contact with the maternal genital mucosa.

 

Now you know how HPV spreads through sexual contact, and how it can also be transmitted through non-sexual means like skin-to-skin contact and, more rarely, via contaminated objects. The good news is that there are ways to help prevent HPV transmission.

 

How to prevent the spread of HPV

 

HPV can be prevented by taking the right measures to help protect yourself against infection. Let’s discuss a few of them:

 

1. The HPV vaccine: HPV vaccination has been demonstrated to help protect against certain high-risk types of HPV, which can help protect against genital warts and some HPV-related cancers. It is important to take the vaccine at the recommended age. Vaccination before first sexual contact may help provide protection of more than 90%.
 

2. Safe sex: Safe sex is an important factor in preventing HPV transmission. Using protective measures may lower your chances of getting infected. However, this is not a foolproof measure as the infection can still spread to the areas that the condom does not cover. 
 

3. Monogamous relationships: Another precaution that you can take is to be in a mutually monogamous relationship, i.e., have sex with someone who only has sex with you. This may help reduce your chances of infection.

 

Maintaining personal hygiene and getting regular check-ups can also play a vital role in HPV prevention.

 

Remember, staying informed and taking proactive measures is key to combating HPV. By taking preventive measures, seeking HPV vaccination, and staying vigilant with health check-ups, we may reduce the risk of HPV and its potential consequences.

 

Disclaimer: HPV - Human Papillomavirus. This information is intended for awareness purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

*Image for representation purpose only
 

IN-GSL-00744 | 16/1/2024 - 10/11/2025