What is HPV?
There are over 200 different types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which infect different parts of the body. Around 50 types can infect the genital area, including the cervix.
Infection with HPV is so common it can be considered a normal part of being sexually active.
Four out of five people who have ever had sex will have HPV at some point in their lives. In most of us the infection is invisible, harmless and transient – that is, it goes away after a few months without causing any problems.
Occasionally, some types of HPV persist in the body. We don't really know why this happens in some people and not others, although some factors (like smoking) seem to make it happen more easily.
Condoms may offer some protection from infection with HPV, but this is limited as they do not cover all the genital skin.