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What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is a group of viruses that can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina and vulva, as well as genital warts.  Two of many high-risk types of HPV (types 16 and 18) are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases.

How can someone get HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It is easily passed between people through skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity. Some people with HPV infections do not have any symptoms. However, even with no symptoms, a person can pass the infection on without knowing it.

Who can get HPV infection?
Anyone can become infected with HPV. Most people clear HPV infections on their own. However, in some people infection can persist and develop into cancer. About 80% of adults will have at least one genital HPV infection over their lifetime.

Can HPV infections be prevented?
Yes. There are two HPV vaccines. Gardasil helps protect against four of the most common types of HPV (Types 6, 11, 16 and 18). Types 6 and 11 are responsible for 90% of all genital warts. Types 16 and 18 are responsible for over 70% of cervical cancers. Cerverix protects against types 16 and 18, again giving nearly 100% effectiveness in preventing infections from these two types. 

More ways to protect yourself from HPV infections include:

  • Delay onset of sexual activity
  • Always use condoms to help reduce the transmission of HPV
  • Limit the number of sexual partners
  • To prevent cervical cancer, make sure to have a Pap Test every 3 years (starting at age 21).

The HPV vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancers therefore routine Pap tests are still recommended.

Who should get the vaccine?
Currently the Perth District Health Unit only offers the Gardiasil vaccine.

Gardasil may be given to females age 9-45. The HPV vaccine is effective whether sexually active or not. The vaccine can also be given to males age 9-26. Although men are not at risk for cervical cancer, the vaccine protects against genital warts, penile and anal cancers, as well as the HPV types that can cause cervical cancer in women.

How safe is the HPV vaccine?

  • The HPV vaccine has been shown to be very safe.
  • A small number of people who get this vaccine may experience some redness, pain and swelling at the site where the needle was given.  A few people may get a slight fever or headache and feel unwell the following day.  This is your body responding to the vaccine.
  • Increased blood pressure, gastroenteritis, and vaginal bleeding have been reported very rarely.
  • Allergic reactions like trouble breathing, swelling of the mouth or face, hives, a rash or seizure/convulsions are extremely rare.  If these symptoms occur, seek medical attention.

After receiving Gardasil, see your doctor if you develop symptoms that are concerning you and they last for more than a few days.  Your doctor will decide if it is related to the vaccine and notify the health unit as needed.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization supports giving this vaccine at the same time as other age-appropriate vaccines, such as hepatitis B. 

Who should not get the vaccine?
  Anyone who is allergic to the components of the vaccine which include:

  • yeast, aluminium, polysorbate 80, L-histidine, sodium borate
  • Anyone who has a fever the day of the appointment is advised to wait until he or she feels better before getting the vaccine
  • Pregnant women.

How is the vaccine given?
The HPV vaccine is given as a series of three injections into upper arm muscle. The three doses will be given over a six month time span. 

How long does the vaccine protection last?
Recent studies have shown good protection against HPV for five years of follow-up. Studies are ongoing to determine if a booster dose is necessary to have continued protection.

Ontario's Grade 8 HPV Vaccination Program
The HPV vaccination program for Grade 8 girls was developed by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to help protect young women from cervical cancer.

Grade 8 was chosen because the HPV vaccine is most effective if given to females before they become sexually active. At the same time, girls in Grade 8 are aware of sexually transmitted infections and will be better able to understand the benefits of the vaccine. All other school vaccination programs will continue for Grade 7.

How much does Gardasil cost?
Currently, Gardasil is available for free for females in grades 8-12. The vaccine is also available for women ages 9-45 years of age at approximately $155 per dose.

Who do I call if I have questions?
Please call the Perth District Health Unit’s Health Line at 519-271-7600 ext 267 or toll-free at 1-877-271-7348 ext 267.

How do I get the vaccine?
You can speak with your family doctor or call the Health Unit's Immunization Clinic.

For more information please contact
Health Line at 519-271-7600 ext 267 or
toll-free at 1-877-271-7348 ext 267.