Human papillomavirus – protection and prevention

Human papillomavirus – protection and prevention

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses which are sexually transmitted and can cause a variety of cancers in the throat and genital area. This health tip discusses vaccination against HPV and other ways in which you can protect yourself.
There are various types of human papillomavirus (HPV). Most of them are harmless, but some of them can cause cancer. HPV is transmitted in many ways including sexually through vaginal, oral or anal intercourse. Since HPV is found on the mucous membranes, it can also be transmitted by touch. The main risk group is 16 to 25 year-olds, as the risk of infection is greatest when individuals become sexually active. The risk also increases with the number of sexual partners.

Estimates indicate that 70% to 80% of sexually active people will become infected with HPV during their lifetime. Two thirds of infections are asymptomatic. Moreover, the virus disappears in 70% of cases within one year of infection, and in 90% within two years.

Different risk types and symptoms

Low-risk HPV types can cause genital warts, which are found in the vagina and the anus. However, they can also occur in the external genital and anal areas in the form of cauliflower-like growths. Genital warts can sometimes cause pain during intercourse. High-risk types of HPV can cause a range of precancerous conditions and cancers, including cervical cancer. In men, they can result in cancer of the penis or anus, but these are less common than cervical cancer.

(Video in German)

Treatment and early detection

HPV infections can be detected in women by a cervical smear (Pap test), which a gynaecologist will carry out during a check-up. The cost of the test is covered by basic insurance every three years. If abnormalities are detected, further tests may be carried out. The sooner that treatment begins, the better the chances of success. For the treatment of precancerous lesions, the mucous membrane at the opening of the cervix must be removed, which can lead to problems and premature birth in subsequent pregnancies. There are various (relatively painful) options for treating genital warts, including freezing, laser treatment and surgical removal. However, such warts can return after treatment.

Protection through condoms and vaccination

For prevention, the recommendation is always to use a condom during sexual intercourse – especially for those who change sexual partners frequently. However, since HPV can also be transmitted through the skin (during petting, for example), condoms merely reduce the risk of infection.

Vaccination offers the best protection against HPV strains which cause cancer or warts. According to the Federal Office of Public Health vaccination is most effective when administered before the individual becomes sexually active – in other words, to children and adolescents between the ages of 11 and 14. However, HPV vaccination can also make sense for those between the ages of 15 and 26. A Pap smear should still be carried out even after vaccination because the protection does not cover all of the HPV strains that may cause cancer.


Do you have symptoms that could indicate genital warts? The BENECURA app from SWICA supports you when you feel unwell or become ill. SWICA customers can use the SymptomCheck feature of the BENECURA app, which was developed by doctors, to obtain information easily, quickly and reliably and immediately receive a personal recommendation about what to do next.

15 09.2021
In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.