79 million Americans.
That is population in the U.S. infected with Human Papillomavirus (HPV), according to CDC.
So how do you get HPV, and where does it come from?
Just read on to discover clinical studies revealing various possible ways to catch this virus —
and you will be surprised by how you can contract HPV through some absolutely unexpected routes.
Evidence-based HPV Transmission Studies: How do You Get HPV Virus?
Understand how HPV is transmitted can help us recognize the infection risk factors for male / female, and help protect ourselves from HPV contraction that can cause cancers or warts.
Even if you are already infected with this virus, you will learn how to fight off recurrent HPV and prevent new infection with different HPV strains.
Let’s dive in to see how is HPV spread.
#1: Sexual Intercourse and Oral Sex — What do HPV Statistics say?
One common way of contracting HPV is by having sexual intercourse with an infected person, as HPV can easily spread among men and women via sexual penetration and genital skin-to-skin contact.
The highly contagious HPV virus can transmit through direct contact with infected areas of skin or mucous membrane. You can get HPV when your penis, vagina, cervix, vulva, or anus contacts someone else’s genitals or mouth and throat — usually during penile-vaginal intercourse, anal sex, or oral sex with someone who is infected with HPV.
For people with at least 1 opposite sex partner, the U.S. CDC estimated average lifetime probability of acquiring HPV is 91.3% for men and 84.6% for women.
Journal of Infectious Diseases added with HPV transmission rate study on heterosexual couples that shows uninfected person has a 20% chance of contracting HPV from an infected sexual partner within 6 months.
Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV – even if you have had sex with only one person, while HPV can be passed when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
If you and your partner try to balance the risk and pleasure by using condom for safer sex, it is still not a full-proof protection against HPV transmission via contact of skin not fully covered by a condom.
Can You really Get HPV from Oral Sex?
This topic has caused a splash in the media when Oscar-winning Hollywood star Michael Douglas revealed to the Guardian that HPV transmitted through oral sex caused his throat cancer.
Studies show about two-thirds of oropharyngeal cancers have HPV DNA detected in the patients, with high risk HPV type 16 is the most frequent found tonsillar human papillomavirus.
HPV-16 is a common sexually transmitted HPV strain that causes penile / anal / cervical cancer, so oral sex is a primary transmission mode of getting such oral HPV virus.
|Disease / Symptoms||HPV Strain Type|
|Throat / Oropharyngeal cancer||16|
|Penile Cancer||16, 18|
|Anal Cancer||16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58|
|Anal Intraepithelial Neoplasia||6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, 58|
|Cervical Cancer||16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58|
The U.S. National Library of Medicine revealed researches indicating strong correlation between oral sex and HPV-induced oropharyngeal cancer:
- A study on 240 patients found HPV-16 positive people had a history of oral sex and multiple oral sex partners, whereas HPV-negative patients had no history of oral sex.
- In another research on 356 oropharyngeal cancer patients, those tested HPV-positive have mean life time oral sex partners of 12.8 compared to 6 for HPV-negative patients.
- How Long can HPV Virus Lie Dormant in Your Body Without You even Knowing It
- High Risk HPV and Cervical Dysplasia Treatment with Natural Remedies
#2: Non-Intercourse / Non-Penetrative Sexual Activities (If You Think They are Safe…)
Even though there is insufficient evidence that concludes getting HPV from kissing is probable —
It turns out you can catch HPV infection without having sex, with studies indicate genital related HPV can be transmitted from non-intercourse sexual contact / activities as well.
A sample case study is research finding from the University of Washington, that found genital HPV infections among lesbian women who had never had sex with a man.
How is it possible?
Planned Parenthood Federation of America says HPV can be spread even if no one cums, and even if a penis does not go inside the vagina, anus, and mouth.
In addition to sexual intercourse, HPV can be spread through genital-genital, finger-vaginal, or finger-anal skin contact.
For instance, 2 different studies that detected genital HPV DNA on the fingers of infected individuals show finger-genital HPV transmission is plausible.
While Addenbrooke’s Hospital of Cambridge detected HPV on the fingers of genital wart patients –
The Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention Journal further revealed the research results of a clinical study on 128 female university students with a total of 357 fingertip samples collected:
- HPV prevalence in fingertip samples was 14.3%, with genital HPV detected in the fingertips.
- 60.4% of HPV-type detected in the fingertips was found in a concurrent genital sample.
- The detected HPV includes both high-risk HPV (eg. type 16/18) and low-risk HPV (eg. type 6/11).
The presence of highly contagious genital HPV on finger is possible after one’s hand/finger touched genital wart, came in contact with HPV-infected vaginal discharge, and so on – with HPV virus not thoroughly washed off hands.
The bottom line?
You can get HPV without having sex, and you may get HPV from being fingered.
If you think you can prevent HPV by only having non-intercourse sexual acts — think again.
#3: Sharing Sex Toys? You Are Toying with HPV!
Have you been misinformed that HPV can not survive outside of the body long enough to transmit the infection – or is it true?
How long does HPV live outside the body?
Researches show HPV virus particles can be found on inanimate objects and dry surfaces, with some presence up to 24 hours till 7 days of lifespan.
In a study published by the BMJ Journals, HPV was detected on vibrators (made of thermoplastic elastomer and soft silicone) just after use in women with vaginal HPV. Subsequently, HPV can still be detected on the sex toys immediately after cleaning and 24 hours after cleaning with a commercially available cleaner.
If that’s not enough:
The National Cancer Institute in Maryland further revealed study that shows high-risk genital HPV-16 still demonstrated 30% of infectivity after dehydrated on a surface for 7 days at room temperature.
HPV is resistant to heat and extreme dryness, and is able to survive on inanimate objects. So sex toys (such as a masturbating vibrator or dildo) shared among partners within the same sexual encounter have the risk of transmitting HPV too.
Related read: 11 Abnormal Pap Smear Causes You May Not Aware
#4: Indirect Contact with HPV Transmitted via Fomites
This report is crazy:
Doctors told 2 different bank tellers that they were indirectly infected with STD / genital-wart after handling banknotes at their workplace, with these 2 females have the common habit of not washing their hands after manual counting banknotes as routine work.
Is there any truth that such HPV mode of transmission is really possible?
After all, it has been widely claimed that HPV cannot be spread by touching hard objects and surfaces, so you cannot get HPV from toilet seats or doorknob – isn’t it?
Well, check this out to debunk the myth:
In the video above, Associate Professor Bhisham Chera MD from University of North Carolina School of Medicine has highlighted that HPV may also be transmitted via fomites.
As reviewed earlier, clinical studies detected HPV virus on the fingers of infected people, while HPV virus can be found survive on dry surfaces and inanimate objects – with lifespan of 24 hours to 7 days.
So it is possible that you can get HPV from fingers – as our hands are exposed to HPV contraction risk in activities like touching doorknobs or escalator handrail in public places, contacting fitness equipment in public gym, and so on.
Similarly, the American College of Foot & Ankle Orthopedics & Medicine highlighted the risk of catching low-risk HPV plantar wart virus if you walk barefoot around public areas with warm and moist walking surfaces (as “fomites”) – such as swimming pool areas or public shower places:
For instance, the American Academy of Family Physicians revealed a study on 146 teens, with results show the prevalence of foot warts was 27% in people who used a communal shower room.
#5: Cross-Contamination from Reusable Medical Instruments
Are hospitals and doctor’s office less safe than we think?
Researchers at Brigham Young University and Pennsylvania State University examined the impact of 11 common disinfectants on high-risk HPV type 16.
The study, published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, show HPV-16 demonstrated considerable resistance to the sterilization process used in clinics and hospitals to cleanse medical instruments, such as vaginal speculums.
Believe it or not:
The Jewish General Hospital of Canada investigated objects that are used for the management of patients with genital HPV infections. Results show HPV DNA was detected on 50% of surgical gloves, while HPV DNA was also found on biopsy forceps before and after sterilization.
In another research published in the Australasian Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine, residual HPV virus were found remaining on transvaginal ultrasound probes before and after low level disinfection.
With the use of reusable medical instruments, it is shocking that our health care providers cannot guarantee cross contamination with HPV infection will not occur —
because researches showed that clinical disinfectants and sterilization cannot fully eliminate HPV, and HPV has the ability to survive in a dry room environment for days.
#6: Perinatal HPV Transmission From Mother To Newborn
You might be wondering:
Is HPV Hereditary? Can HPV pass from Mother to Child?
In short, HPV is not hereditary, meaning HPV is not transmitted through genetics and passed from biological parent to child because of inherited genes.
But here’s the kicker:
Clinical studies show HPV can be passed from mother to child during childbirth.
Based on report published by the Science Direct, a study was conducted on 167 pregnant women. Cervicovaginal samples, placental samples, and various samples in children of HPV-positive mothers were collected for HPV DNA testing. Results show high prevalence of HPV in pregnant women (45%) and in placentas (14%), while 11% of the newborn infants were tested HPV-positive.
Hindawi journals presented further evidence on vertical transmission through which infected mothers were responsible for their infant’s infection. Tests were carried out on a broad spectrum of HPV strains in the oral and genital samples collected from the mothers and the newborns, with 30% of the mothers and 1.5% of the newborn babies tested positive for the HPV.
And there’s more:
Vertical HPV transmission from mother to infant has also been critically researched by The Finnish HPV Family Study. From 76 families, samples of genital and oral scrapings were collected from the parents and the infants for testing –
- The HPV profile generated for HPV-positive mother-infant pairs was recorded as 26%, while the HPV-positive father-infant pairs were recorded at 11%.
- Infants were tested positive for HPV DNA in their genitals (15%) and the oral (10%) samples.
#7: You Spread HPV To Yourself
First off, Moscicki and fellow researchers indicated Human Papillomavirus in vaginal discharge of a female might be spread from vagina to the anus because of their proximity.
Beyond that, if you touch or scratch a wart on your body, you may spread the HPV wart virus to other area of your skin.
For example, if you scratch or pick a plantar wart on your left foot, the HPV plantar wart virus may stay on your finger. At this time, if your hand touch the other foot, there is a risk that you can self-spread the HPV from your left foot to newly infect your right foot with plantar wart virus.
Can Warts on Foot or Hand Spread to Genital?
Let’s be clear:
Plantar warts on foot and common warts on hand are caused by different low-risk HPV strain than genital warts. For instance, HPV common wart virus on hand (eg. HPV-2) cannot be transmitted to cause genital warts (eg. caused by HPV type 6 / 11).
|Disease||HPV Strain Type|
|Genital warts||6, 11, 30, 40-45, 51, 54|
|Plantar warts||1, 2, 4|
|Flat warts||3, 10, 27, 28, 49|
|Common warts||1, 2, 4, 26, 27, 29, 57|
How Can You Prevent and Fight HPV Contraction?
By now you’ll have realised sexual contact is the most common cause that can get you HPV, while nonsexual HPV transmission via fomites and non-penetrative sexual contact may also occur.
What’s next after understand where does this highly contagious virus come from?
Stay focus on what you can do to minimize the risk of HPV contraction and keep it at bay:
1. Boost your body immune system as our body immunity is the first line of defense to fight off Human Papillomavirus infection. People with weakened body immune system are less capable to battle against HPV, before the start of HPV symptoms like precancerous cell changes or warts.
With Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says HPV infections may last up to 2 years before the immune system overcomes the infection — weakened immunity not only makes you vulnerable to HPV infection, but also reduce your body’s own capability to get HPV virus out of your system naturally.
- How Can You Build Strong Body Immunity System To Fight HPV Effectively
- Can HPV be Positive and then becomes HPV Negative?
2. Take HPV vaccine Gardasil or Cervarix to help protect yourself against most common HPV types that cause cervical cancer, oral cancer, and genital warts.
3. Practice safer sex by using condom during intercourse, avoid oral sex, and do not share sex toys.
4. Do not walk barefoot in public areas with moist walking surfaces.
5. Seek immediate treatment to remove warts if contracted, because HPV wart virus is highly contagious and it may spread to the other parts of your body and to the other people.