Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus, with four out of five people having it at some stage of their lives. In some cases, it can increase a woman's risk of cervical cancer. However, most women with HPV do not develop cervical cancer. HPV is passed on through genital skin contact and is so common that it could be considered a normal part of being sexually active.
After entering the body, HPV will behave in one of two ways: either remaining dormant (inside the body's cells), or becoming active. When active, warts can develop or it can affect cervical cells. It can take many years for the virus to become active and its presence is usually short-lived. In most cases the body takes between 8 to 14 months to clear the virus naturally.
Most people will have HPV at some time in their lives and never know it. You may become aware of HPV if you have an abnormal Pap test result, or if genital warts appear.
Once you have been exposed to a particular type of HPV, you are unlikely to catch it again, as the body usually becomes immune to that type.
There are about 100 different strains of HPV. Fortunately, the HPV vaccination protects against 2 of the main HPV types that cause 70-80% cervical cancer.
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