Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
What is Human Papilloma Virus?
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is very common. It is spread by sex and sexual contact (including skin to skin). Almost everyone gets HPV at some time in their life. Often, the body gets rid of HPV on its own, and you may never know you were infected. There are over 100 different types of HPV. While some types are harmless, others can be harmful.
HPV is the cause of:
- All genital warts
- All cervical cancer
HPV can cause:
- Some other less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of throat including base of tongue and tonsils)
- There is no cure for HPV. However, immunization prevents the four types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and genital warts.
In 2010, 1550 Yukon women between the ages of 14 and 69 participated in a study about HPV. The study found that one in four Yukon women who participated were infected at the time with HPV. One or two Yukon women develop invasive cervical cancer each year. In 2011, over 200 procedures (colposcopy) were done in Yukon for abnormal changes in the cervix caused by HPV.
How does it spread?
HPV is spread through sex and sexual contact (including skin to skin). This includes any kind of touching with the vagina, vulva, penis, scrotum, or anus of someone who is infected. Condoms do not necessarily protect against HPV.
Signs and Symptoms
HPV often has no noticeable symptoms. Many people never know when they have it. HPV types 6 and 11 are associated with chronic warty lesions of the anus and genital area. HPV cannot be treated. Doctors can remove visible genital lesions and warts caused by HPV, but they can reoccur and doctors are not able to kill the virus.
For women, the only way to know if you are infected with the cancer-causing types of HPV is to have regular Pap testing. Women should have their first Pap test within three years of becoming sexually active or by age 21. Talk to your health care provider to find out how often you need to have a Pap test.
How can I protect myself and people around me?
There is no cure for HPV. However, immunization can prevent infection by a number of HPV strains, including the two types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer.
Anyone who has sex is at risk for HPV. Immunization is the best way to prevent the most common harmful types of HPV. HPV immunization will greatly reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
Using a condom during sex will reduce, but not take away the risk of HPV. You can still be infected by contact with areas the condom doesn’t cover.
Limiting the number of people you have sex with and delaying the age when you first have sex can also reduce your risk of being infected with HPV.
What is HPV vaccine?
HPV vaccine consists of a series of two or three needles depending on age and other criteria. The first two needles are offered to all females in the Grade 6 school immunization program, six months apart. The series needs to be completed to get full protection. You cannot get HPV from this vaccine. HPV immunization is most effective when given prior to sexual contact in order to provide the best protection against genital warts and cervical cancer.
Does this vaccine have side effects?
HPV vaccine is safe and has few side effects. After 175 million doses worldwide, close monitoring has continued to demonstrate the safety of this vaccine. The most common side effect is pain, redness or swelling in the area where the needle goes in. Your child may also have a slight fever. Serious side effects are extremely rare.
Where can I find more information?
The following are resources for further information on HPV and the vaccine:
- The HPV Facts Booklet
- The School Based Immunization Program Booklet
- Additional information can be found in the following documents:
HVP fact sheet (English | French)
Talking to your daughter about the HPV vaccine? (English and French)
- Yukon Health and Social Services
- The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
- Aboriginal Sexual Health
- Immunize B.C.
- Health Canada