When people talk about HPV and sexual health, they’re usually talking about genital HPV. Genital HPV is any strain of the human papillomavirus that is passed by contact with someone’s genitals. However, genital HPV isn’t the only kind of HPV! Some strains of HPV can cause warts on parts of the body other than the genitals.
Can warts on someone’s hands or feet be passed to someone’s genitals?
Any time a person gets warts anywhere on their body, it’s caused by a strain of HPV. Non-genital strains of HPV can’t be passed to or from someone’s genitals. This means if you have warts on your hands or feet, you can’t pass them to someone else’s genitals. You also can’t get warts from genital HPV on your hands or feet. Sometimes, genital warts can be passed to the mouth or throat, but not to other parts of the body.
Non-genital forms of HPV are not considered to be sexually transmitted infections, or STIs. Genital HPV is considered an STI, since it can be passed through sexual contact.
Is non-genital HPV contagious? How do you get it? How do you prevent it?
Non-genital HPV can be contagious. However, most people develop immunity to it as they get older. Because it’s so common, there’s no way to knowingly limit your exposure. If you have it, it can help to wash your hands regularly, but most people do not get it just from touching things that someone with warts touched, or even touching someone who has warts. You encounter strains of non-genital HPV all the time! Most people only get them if their immune system is too weak to fight the virus off. This can happen if someone is very young, or if they have a medical condition that can compromise their immune system, like HIV.
What do I do if I get non-genital HPV? Is it curable?
Like genital HPV, there’s no cure for warts on your hands, feet, or other parts of your body. That doesn’t mean if you get them, you’ll have them forever, though! Often, people who get warts notice that they go away on their own. This can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. Non-genital forms of HPV are not associated with an increased risk for cancer. Because they don’t pose any health risk, they are often called a “cosmetic” issue.
If you have non-genital HPV and you want warts removed, you can talk to a doctor about it. They may recommend over-the-counter wart removal methods. These usually involve a topical cream of some kind or gently wearing down the wart until it’s removed. You can also see a dermatologist to have warts removed by a healthcare professional. Usually, they will do this by freezing or burning the wart to stop it from coming back once it’s gone. If that sounds scary or painful, don’t worry! This process is very safe when done professionally, and a doctor can walk you through it. It’s not recommended that you try to burn or freeze warts off on your own at home. This can be dangerous!
Non-genital HPV is a common part of life, and usually nothing to worry about. Noticing signs of it can be scary, just like genital HPV, but it doesn’t pose a long-term risk to your health on its own.