International travel and health

Human Papillomavirus


Human papillomavirus (HPV), belonging to the Papillomaviridae family.


Genital HPV infections are transmitted primarily by sexual contact, predominantly but not exclusively through penetrative intercourse. HPV is highly transmissible, and most sexually active men and women will acquire an HPV infection at some time in their lives.

Nature of the disease

Whereas most HPV infections are transient and benign, persistent genital infection with certain viral genotypes can lead to the development of anogenital precancers and cancers. Diseases caused by HPV include cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis and anus; a subset of head and neck cancers; anogenital warts; and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis.

Geographical distribution

HPV is very common all over the world. In 2005, there were an estimated 500 000 cases of cervical cancer worldwide and 260 000 related deaths. Cervical cancer incidence rates vary from 1 to 50 per 100 000 females; rates are highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, Melanesia, and south-central and south-east Asia.

Risk for travellers

Transmission of HPV occurs most commonly through sexual activity; see precautions under “HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections", Chapter 5.