Factsheet about human papillomavirus


Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer after breast cancer to affect women aged 15–44 years in the European Union. Each year, there are around 33 000 cases of cervical cancer in the EU, and 15 000 deaths. The primary cause of cervical cancer is a persistent infection of the genital tract by some specific types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is present in most cases of cervical lesions, which can further develop into cancer.
HPV is a group of viruses, of which more than 100 types have been described. About 40 of them can infect the genitals.  At least 14 HPV types classified as ‘high risk’ can cause cervical cancer in women, and are associated with other anogenital cancers and head and neck cancers in both men and women. HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the most common “high-risk” types, causing about 70 %of all cases of cervical cancer. ‘Low risk’ HPV types, most commonly HPV 6 and HPV 11, are responsible of about 90% of cases of condylomata acuminata (genital warts). Three prophylactic HPV vaccines have been granted a license for use in Europe (1), a bivalent, a quadrivalent and a nine-valent vaccine according to the number of types of HPV they contain.

All of the licensed vaccines contain antigens that provide protection against conditions caused by HPV types 16 and 18 and are shown to prevent more than 90% of precancerous lesions associated with these 2 types of viruses.

The nine-valent vaccine additionally prevents more than 90% of precancerous lesions associated with HPV 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58 types.

For a latest update on vaccine recommendation against HPV in the EU, please refer to the ECDC vaccine scheduler (2).

HPV vaccines are given in a two dose regimen over a six-month period for 9 to15 years’ old and in three doses to individuals aged 16 years or older.

(1) https://www.ema.europa.eu/medicines/human/referrals/human-papillomaviru…

(2) https://vaccine-schedule.ecdc.europa.eu/


Warts are…

…growths of skin and mucus membrane caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). They can appear anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on hands and feet. 


Symptoms of warts differ depending on their location and the sub-type of the HPV virus causing them. They include:

Common warts

Can happen on any part of the body but are most common on hands and knees. Thick, horny pimples with a rough, irregular surface that vary in size from 1mm to 1cm.

Plane or flat warts

Occur mostly on the fingers, toes and face. Slightly raised flesh-coloured pimples that occur singly or in groups and can join together to form plaques.

Verrucas (deep palmoplantar warts)

Often found on weight-bearing areas such as the ball of the foot or heel. They begin as small shiny pimples which progress to deep, well defined, inward-growing round lesions with a rough, horny surface, surrounded by a smooth collar of calloused skin. Often painful.

Mosaic warts

Found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. A plaque of closely-grouped warts.

Filiform warts

Long slender growths found on the face.

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis

Occur anywhere in the respiratory tract but mostly in the larynx. Growths  of warts in the respiratory tract often cause hoarseness of voice and airway obstruction and can recur.

Ways to catch warts

Cutaneous warts are spread by direct contact either from person to person or by touching something that has been contaminated with HPV. Swimming pools and bathrooms are common areas for the spread of warts. The risk of passing on warts if you have them is considered to be low.

People most at risk

Warts are widespread and most people will have had them at some point in their lives. Warts are uncommon in infants but become more frequent in childhood, reaching a peak in teenage years. They are more frequent in patients whose immune systems are deficient and in butchers, fishmongers and other meat handlers.


Diagnosis of warts is based on a doctor examining the clinical symptoms.


There is no cure for HPV infection but treatments may be used to eliminate the signs and symptoms of warts. Warts will often get better on their own but, if they are causing pain or embarrassment or making it difficult for a patient to function, they may be treated. A wide range of treatments are available.

How to avoid getting cutaneous warts

In practice, it is almost impossible to completely avoid exposure to warts virus – which is why most people will have warts sometime during their lives. If possible, avoid direct contact with warts from other people or from other parts of the body. Avoid sharing socks, shoes and towels and wear flip flops when using communal showers. If you have warts, cover them with waterproof tape in wet places like showers or swimming pools.

What to do if you have cutaneous warts

Staying away from school or work or from playing sports is not necessary because there is no public health threat from cutaneous warts.

Note: The information contained in this factsheet is intended for the purpose of general information and should not be used as a substitute for the individual expertise and judgement of healthcare professionals.

Page last updated 16 Nov 2018