12 Facts About Human Papillomavirus

Pornpak Khunatorn, iStock via Getty Images
Pornpak Khunatorn, iStock via Getty Images

Human papillomavirus may have been covered in your high school health class, but there are many things that set it apart from other sexually transmitted infections. The severity of symptoms varies greatly: Warts that appear anywhere on the body are a result of HPV, as are most cervical cancer cases. Most people who get HPV never realize they have it, and with millions contracting the virus each year, chances are you’ll catch it at some point in your life. From its many types to the best way to protect yourself from it, here’s what you should know about human papillomavirus

1. Human papillomavirus infects the skin.

One distinguishing trait of human papillomavirus—and papillomaviruses affecting all animals—is that it infects the skin. When the virus causes symptoms, it provokes some inflammation or change in the skin tissue. This change can include warts, benign tumors, and tumors that become cancerous. Because it lives in the skin and mucous membranes of the body, HPV is usually transmitted through sexual contact.

2. Human papillomavirus is known for causing cervical cancer.

Most cervical cancer cases can be traced back to HPV infections. Cancer that affects the cervix—the part of the female reproductive system connecting the uterus to the vagina—is a serious global health issue. It’s the second most common cancer in women in underdeveloped countries, with 311,000 people dying from it worldwide each year. Fortunately, cervical cancer also has one of the most effective screening tests ever developed [PDF]. A Pap smear is administered by collecting cells from the surface of the cervix and analyzing them for any changes that could indicate the development of cancer. With regular Pap smears, cervical cancer is easy to catch and prevent, but they aren't always affordable to people without health insurance. This may explain why 85 percent of cervical cancer deaths happen in low- and middle-income countries.

3. There are many types of human papillomavirus.

There are more than 100 types of human papillomavirus, and only 14 of them can cause cancer. Out of that number, an even smaller group is responsible for most cervical cancer diagnoses and precancerous cervical lesions. HPV types 16 and 18 are behind 70 percent of these cases. But just because a type doesn’t cause cancer doesn’t mean it can’t be a problem. HPV types 6 and 11 have been linked to non-cancerous genital warts and respiratory papillomatosis, a condition that causes potentially life-threatening tumors to grow in the airways between the nose, mouth, and lungs.

4. High-risk HPV has no visible symptoms.

Even if a case of human papillomavirus doesn’t show clear symptoms, it can still be dangerous. Unlike the HPV types that cause genital warts, high-risk HPV types don’t present any outward signs before cervical cancer develops. That’s why receiving regular Pap smears is important—even if you feel healthy.

5. Almost everyone gets infected with human papillomavirus.

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection on Earth. Fourteen percent of the U.S. population contracts it each year, and there are currently 80 million people in the country with one type of the virus.

6. Most people with HPV don’t know they have it.

Human papillomavirus may be pervasive, but it’s not regarded with the same level of severity as many other pandemic-causing viruses. That’s because most types of HPV are unrelated to cancer, and they may not even cause obvious symptoms. A huge majority—about 90 percent—of HPV infections go away on their own within two years.

7. It can take years for symptoms of human papillomavirus to appear.

Many people who contract HPV never show symptoms. In other cases, people are infected unknowingly for weeks to years before signs—such as bumps, warts, or lesions—start to emerge. This long, unpredictable period between exposure and the disease’s visibility can sometimes make it impossible to pinpoint exactly when a patient was infected.

8. Cancers caused by human papillomavirus affect men and women.

While cervical cancer is the best-known side effect of HPV infection, it’s not the only cancer caused by the disease. Human papillomavirus can cause cancerous tumors to grow on the vulva, vagina, anus, penis, and oropharynx (the area at the back of the throat). Because many people only know HPV as the virus that causes cervical cancers, the threat it poses to men is often downplayed. Its link to various cancers shows that men should get the HPV vaccine not only to protect their female sex partners, but also to protect themselves.

9. HPV-related cancer can be prevented with a vaccine.

Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers you can vaccinate yourself against, thanks to a human papillomavirus vaccine introduced in 2006. Gardasil equips the body against cervical cancer-causing HPV types 16 and 18. It’s also effective at preventing HPV types 6 and 11, the types mostly likely to cause genital warts and respiratory papillomatosis; and types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which are linked to all the cancers HPV can cause. The vaccine comes in two or three shots administered over 6 months. Because it’s most effective at protecting people who are not yet sexually active, the best time for everyone to receive it is in late childhood or early adolescence.

10. The man who linked HPV to cervical cancer won the Nobel Prize.

Much of what we know about human papillomavirus today is thanks to Harald zur Hausen. In 1974, the German scientist and his colleagues discovered there were multiple types of human papillomavirus, and in 1979, he identified the HPV strain responsible for genital warts. His most influential work began in the 1980s, when he isolated HPVs 16 and 18—the two HPV types that cause most cervical cancers. In 2008, at age 72, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work connecting cervical cancer to human papillomavirus.

11. The word papilloma means "tumor."

Papillomavirus comes from the word papilloma, a noncancerous growth on the skin, like a benign tumor or a wart. The etymology of papilloma reveals that the term was originally more specific. In Latin, papilla means "nipple," and in Greek, omameans "tumor," with the words combining to indicate "a tumor resembling a nipple." Many mammals can catch papillomaviruses, which is why the phrase human papillomavirus is used to describe pathogens that infect our species.

12. People in past centuries have come up with creative explanations for warts caused by HPV.

All skin warts are caused by human papillomavirus. Humans have been experiencing this symptom of HPV for thousands of years, with written accounts of warts dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. The condition has also inspired notable folklore throughout history. To explain the cause of warts, people have blamed killing toads, touching livestock, washing hands in water in which eggs have been boiled, and masturbating. Historical folk remedies for warts include spitting on them first thing in the morning, as well as rubbing a slug on them and impaling it on a thorn for nine nights in a row.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29


This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28


The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24


Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19


If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275


The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24


Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

ScareHouse: How a Famously In-Your-Face Haunted House Is Using the Pandemic to Its Advantage

ScareHouse is serving up a ton of (socially-distanced) terrors in Tarentum, Pennsylvania.
ScareHouse is serving up a ton of (socially-distanced) terrors in Tarentum, Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy Nick Keppler

During its first 20 years, every face paint-caked zombie or masked ghoul working at Pittsburgh's ScareHouse was taught one maxim: Get into people’s personal space.

"We told them, 'Don’t touch anyone, but get as close as you can,'" Scott Simmons, founder and creative director of the longtime haunted attraction, tells Mental Floss.

Things are different this year. Like so much else, that rule has been canceled due to coronavirus. Halloween is just the latest annual tradition to require a readjustment because of the current pandemic. Health officials are discouraging costume parties and people are buying candy chutes for trick-or-treaters. Haunts—the industry term for the mazes of frightful sights and sounds that crop up every October—have faced a choice familiar to event organizers: skip a season or adjust.

To Scare or Not to Scare


After weighing the options, ScareHouse (a particularly high-production venture that has gotten nods from the likes of Oscar-winning horror master Guillermo del Toro) decided to adjust—and even took this unexpected change of plans as a unique opportunity to create a haunt built specifically with COVID-19 precautions in mind. Due to limited parking, Simmons abandoned the former Elks Lodge that ScareHouse has called home since 2007. In March, he signed a lease for a new location, a former H&M store in a half-empty shopping mall in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, located about 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Simmons and his collaborators were in the midst of planning their labyrinth of terror when they saw Plexiglas go up in grocery stores and social distancing become the norm. With a wide open space as a blank canvas, they realized they could incorporate elements of COVID-19 restrictions into ScareHouse's design.

Though the actors can no longer invade a visitor's personal space—they have to stay six feet away and wear a face mask at all times (as do customers)—there are plenty of other tools in the haunt master's toolbox.

This year's iteration of ScareHouse relies on techniques that are either very advanced or completely basic. "It’s light sensors and animatronics or it’s characters pounding on glass and people moving around wearing something glow-in-the-dark and some stuff I haven’t seen since I was 15," Simmons says.

Back to Basics

Photo courtesy Nick Keppler

ScareHouse's first segment is a demon-possessed family home. Actors play supernatural specters, the now-crazed residents, or urban explorers and nuns who became trapped after they entered the home to either document or exorcise it. Built into each room is a reason for the actor to be masked and distant.

In a children’s bedroom, an actor in a teddy bear outfit leaps up from a stack of stuffed animals, which creates a barrier from each passing group. A demented housewife character appears in a kitchen covered in (plastic) guts and spoiled food. She stays in a corner behind an open refrigerator door and a manic smile is painted onto her facemask. When passing through the darkened bathroom stage, patrons see a mirror that’s actually a replication of the bathroom stage behind Plexiglas. An actor can then startle them and pound against it.

In a bedroom, a woman writhes in a bed (in tribute to The Exorcist); a pair of fake legs gives the appearance that her body has been contorted. The bed is covered in plastic resembling bed curtains. ScareHouse has provided the actor with recorded screams and growls she can summon with a button, so she doesn’t have to release her own spit into the air.

This year, the staff has been reduced from the 200 usually employed seasonally to just 90 people. Simmons said he wanted fewer actors trading costumes and spending time in make-up chairs.

Technology and props have taken over some of the work of frightening teenagers and other scare-seekers.

Eerie Adaptions

Photo courtesy of ScareHouse

As patrons enter the attraction, they are given flashlights and come into a darkened parlor, decked out in antique furniture. The flashlights are another adaptation; they give a way to explore the room without touching anything. And they interact with photon sensors to create some eerie effects.

In the parlor, a motion detector causes a piano top to rattle but once a patron points their flashlight at it, a photon sensor causes it to stop. The same trick works on a Ouija board sitting on a table. A motion detection signal causes the planchette to vibrate. A photon detector causes it to stop at the touch of a beam of light. This creates the impression that a poltergeist is responding to patrons’ actions.

The ScareHouse has also made use of animatronics and puppets. A werewolf and a set of dinosaur jaws pop out of darkened spaces. An animatronic woman removes her face to reveal a mesh of blood at the signal of a motion detector.

Another segment of ScareHouse is a “fever dream” employing a freakish mesh of body parts twisted onto the walls and glass tank of smoke and light, in which an actor plays some kind of creature (exactly what it is is left up to the patron's imagination). “We don’t even need a costume,” operations manager Maryane Kimbler tells Mental Floss. “You can’t see them. They create these fantastic motions and shapes.”

Haunted Ambitions

Photo courtesy Nick Keppler

Perhaps the most ambitious scene is the “courtyard” of the possessed house. Patrons walk through a backyard scattered with skeletal bits and see a character called the Specter of the Forest, dressed in branches and grass. He rings a bell and tells them to come forward. “But he’s a total distraction,” Kimbler admits.

As they walk toward him, a terrifying animatronic called the “nun lunger” pops out of doorway. She’s just a doll in a nun’s habit and gown with a face that looks like it was borrowed from Marilyn Manson circa 1993, but she's moving on a track and rushes 12 feet across the room under flashing strobe lights.

Once again, concocted terror belies actual safety considerations. In years past, the nun may have been played by an actor, commissioned to come close and scream and snarl. None of that can be done with ScareHouse's careful social distancing measures in place. Instead, the actor—that Specter of the Forrest—is given a secondary role in the thrill. The idea is that, startled by the sudden sprint of this decay-faced nun, they run past him, as he stays behind a fence-like barrier.

In 2020, it’s the safest way to be terrified.