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What is HPV and how can you protect yourself from it? - Emma Bryce

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At some point, most sexually active people will be infected with human papillomavirus, or HPV. There are over 100 types of HPV, and most of the time the body eliminates infections without symptoms— but some strains can pose serious health risks down the line. How can you protect yourself from HPV? Emma Bryce explains how the virus causes harm, who’s at risk and how to minimize those risks.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Emma Bryce
  • Director Sharon Colman
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Music Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Human Papillomavirus might seem like an all-encompassing, frightening thing. But the best way to arm yourself against its worst effects is to be informed.

These resources from the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organisation are a good place to start, if you want to grasp the basics of the virus, how it’s contracted, and what it does in the body. This reminds us that 4 out of 5 people - or 80% of us - will at some point be infected with HPV. So it’s not rare at all, and infection is no cause for shame.

But, it is best if we take steps to prevent infection from occurring in the first place, because further down the line it could lead to different types of cancer.

This page
from New York University Langone Health describes the different types of HPV and the difference between low-risk HPV and high-risk HPV. The most common outcome of high-risk infection is cervical cancer: Cancer Research UK has a comprehensive guide to this type of cancer, which also shows you where the cervix is and how its cells become infected, and the two main types of cervical cancer. If you want to understand more about how HPV infection gets to this stage, take a look at this expert’s explanation from the Mayo Clinic. The American Cancer Society also describes the other types of cancer that HPV can cause.

So, how do we handle this risk? This article from the Cleveland Clinic describes the different options for prevention. One of the most important for women is getting regular pap smears: here and here you can read more about what happens during a pap smear and how it works.

But vaccines are now probably the most important part of the HPV prevention regime. The UK’s National Health Service has some clear information you can read about the vaccines, when they’re given, and what their purpose is. You can also read about the options for boys and men to get vaccinated. You might be interested in this piece from the British Medical Journal which reveals that there has been some debate about whether it makes sense to widely vaccinate boys. But most experts and organisations now agree that vaccinating males and females is a crucial part of the process to significantly reduce the incidence of HPV infection and the cancers it causes.

You may also be interested in this TED Ed video explaining how vaccines work, or this one on how to eradicate a disease.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Emma Bryce
  • Director Sharon Colman
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Music Miguel d'Oliveira
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more