HPV is a common virus that affects both males and females, which is passed from person to person through sexual contact. HPV can stay in the body for years, causing changes to cells that can lead to a wide range of HPV-related cancers and other serious diseases.
HPV is a highly contagious virus that is transmitted through different forms of sexual contact.
How serious a risk is HPV?
There are many different types of HPV which target different parts of the body. Approximately 40 types of HPV affect the genital area and spread from person to person through sexual contact. HPV types 16 and 18 are the most common causes of HPV-related cancers. HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, some head and neck cancers, and genital warts. Types 16 and 18 cause up to 80 per cent of cervical cancer in females and 90 per cent of HPV-related cancers in males. Types 6 and 11 cause approximately 95 per cent of genital warts.
It is estimated that up to four out of five Australians will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives. Although HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, most HPV infections are asymptomatic – meaning that they have no clinical symptoms. This means that people infected with HPV often do not know they have it, and can continue transmitting the virus to others.
Vaccinating against HPV provides highly effective protection against the development of HPV-related cancers and disease caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18.
The best time to be vaccinated is before a person becomes sexually active. If a person has had sexual contact then they may have been infected with some of these HPV types. If they have already been infected with any of these four types, their protection against HPV-related cancers and disease after vaccination may be reduced.
Vaccinating males against HPV (protection from penile and anal cancer, some cancers of the head and neck, and genital warts) helps to protect unvaccinated females from cervical and other HPV-related cancers by reducing the spread of the virus.
You should not have the HPV vaccine if you have had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous HPV vaccine, yeast or any other vaccine components. Females should not have the HPV vaccine if they are pregnant.
Vaccination will not alter or treat any pre-existing HPV infection or the development of any consequences of the infection. Treatments are available for some of the effects of the virus, such as genital warts and abnormal changes to cells in the cervix.
Regular Pap tests for females are still essential because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancers.
National HPV Vaccination Program
The HPV vaccine is provided free in schools to all males and females aged 12-13 years under the National HPV Vaccination Program.
The National HPV Vaccination Program began in 2007 for females, and was extended to include males in 2013. Since 2007, the National HPV Vaccination Program has been credited with dramatically reducing the incidence of the HPV virus in Australia.
The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance undertook an evaluation of the National HPV Vaccination Program. Go to the Resources page to download online or order a hardcopy.
Parents or guardians are required to complete a consent form and return it to their child’s school to participate in the program. Once a child’s parent or guardian has consented, the vaccine is given as three injections over a period of six months by qualified immunisation providers. It is important to complete the full course – all three doses – for the best protection. Contact your state or territory health department for consent forms.
- The National HPV Vaccination Program Register collects data to evaluate the impact of the HPV Vaccination Program on rates of HPV-related cancers. For further information, visit the HPV Register website or call 1800 478 734.
- A suite of HPV vaccination coverage reports, including the latest coverage data and a series of historical reports, is available in the Coverage Data section of the HPV Register website.
- The National centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance has produced a fact sheet which answers commonly asked questions on HPV vaccination. Quadrivalent HPV Vaccine Factsheet.