Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

What is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Three out of four sexually active people will get a HPV infection at some point in their lives. HPV is sometimes called the ‘common cold’ of sexual activity. HPV infects both males and females. Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity with another person involving oral (mouth/throat), genital, or anal contact can get HPV.

How is HPV spread?

HPV is spread orally and through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. The virus enters the body through tiny breaks in the skin. Sexual intercourse is not necessary to get infected. Most people infected with HPV do not show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus onto others without even knowing it. You can be exposed to HPV from only one sexual partner, the first time sexual activity occurs. The more sexual partners you have, the higher the risk of being infected with HPV. 

What are the symptoms of HPV?

Genital warts can be a symptom of HPV. Genital warts are soft bumps on and around the genital area that are usually painless, itchy and sometimes bleed. However, since most HPV infections do not cause genital warts, there are often no symptoms and people do not know they are infected.

What are the risks of HPV?

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Some types cause cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina in females and cancers of the penis in males. It can also cause cancers of the anus and mouth/throat and genital warts in both men and women.

Every year in B.C. approximately:

  • 6,000 women will develop high risk pre-cancerous changes to the cervix
  • 175 women will get cervical cancer and 50 will die from the disease
  • 110 people will develop anal cancer and 20 will die from the disease
  • 5,500 people will develop genital warts

How do you prevent HPV?

Getting immunized is the best way to prevent HPV infection. HPV vaccines are safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get HPV disease. When you get immunized you help to protect others as well. 

Gardasil9 (HPV 9) is the vaccine offered in B.C. and has replaced the HPV4 (Gardasil) that was used in B.C. programs from 2008 through 2016. 

This vaccine protects against seven types of HPV that cause 85-90 per cent of cervical cancers and anal cancers in females and about 84 per cent of anal cancers in males. The vaccine is also about 90-100 per cent effective in protecting against genital warts that are caused by two other types of HPV.

Gardasil9 also protects against two types of HPV that cause about 90 per cent of cases of genital warts. 

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine gets the best immune response when given between the ages of 9 to 15.

HPV9 vaccine is recommended and provided free to:

  • Girls and boys in Grade 6
  • Females born in 1994 to 2005 who have not completed a series of HPV vaccine (up to age 26 - inclusive)
  • Males and females 9 to 26 years of age (inclusive) who are infected with HIV
  • Males 9 – 26 years of age (inclusive) who are at increased risk for HPV infection
  • Males 9 to 18 years of age in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD)
  • Males in youth custody services centres 

The HPV9 vaccine is recommended, but not provided free for the following people:

  • Females 27 – 45 years of age
  • Males 9 – 26 years of age who do not meet criteria above
  • Men 27 years of age and older who have sex with men 

Grade 6 students are vaccinated by Public Health Nurses in the school setting. Anyone else eligible for the HPV vaccine can be immunized by making an appointment with your family doctor, pharmacist or Public Health. 

To book an immunization appointment with Public Health:

Residents of Fraser East (Mission, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Agassiz and Hope), call 604-702-4906

Residents in any other area of Fraser Health, call 604-476-7087 

Those not eligible for a free HPV vaccine can purchase it at most pharmacies, travel clinics and some sexual health clinics. 

Resources

For more information about HPV and HPV vaccines, go to:

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