Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a very common, highly contagious group of viruses that can infect the genital and oral areas of both men and women. “Low risk” types of genital HPV can cause genital warts, and “high risk” types can cause cervical cancer and lead to other oral/anal/genital cancers. There are currently 2 different vaccines available that protect against certain types of HPV, Gardasil and Cervarix.
Make an appointment at any of our clinics in Greater Victoria to find out more information on HPV, or to have a Pap test to check for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.
Symptoms of HPV
Most people will not have any symptoms with an HPV infection.
The few people who have symptoms may get visible genital warts or have pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, vulva, anus or penis. The genital warts are usually soft, flesh-coloured painless growths. Genital warts can be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large, and sometimes cauliflower shaped. They can appear in or around the vagina or anus, on the vulva, in the urethra, cervix, penis, scrotum, groin or thigh.
Other symptoms may include:
- Discomfort during penetrative intercourse
- Bleeding with intercourse
How HPV spreads
HPV is the most common STI in the world and the rates continue to rise.
it is estimated that at least 70% of sexually active people will have at least 1 HPV infection in their lifetime (PHAC, 2008)many people infected with HPV do not have any symptoms and are unaware they are infected but can pass on the virus.
Every year in BC alone, approximately 150 women get cervical cancer and approximately 40 women die from the disease.
There are over 100 different types of HPV, and more than 40 of these are sexually transmitted. The genital types of HPV are most commonly spread through skin to skin genital contact with an infected person.
HPV can be transmitted during oral, vaginal and anal sex and through genital skin to skin contact (penetration not necessary) or by sharing toys.
HPV is extremely contagious and any sexually active person can get it most HPV infected people do not know they are infected (no symptoms) but can pass the virus to a sex partner
Many HPV infected people will clear the infection on their own within 18 months but in some people it may remain dormant in the body and the symptoms can return rarely, an infected mother can pass it on to her baby during vaginal childbirth
HPV tests and diagnosis
genital warts are diagnosed by visual inspection
women are often diagnosed with high risk strains of HPV on the basis of abnormal Pap tests, therefore it is important for females to get regular Pap tests beginning at the age of 21 or 3 years after sexual activity begins (whichever comes first)
the Pap test screens for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, most of which are related to HPV
HPV DNA testing for high risk strains of HPV is now available for women (using a cervical swab) for a fee through Life Labs
Make an appointment to have a Pap test or to see a doctor about genital warts.
there is no cure for HPV, however most people with healthy immune systems will clear the infection on their own within 18 months
treatments are directed towards the changes in skin or mucous membrane caused by HPV such as warts or pre-cancerous changes in the cervix
cervical changes are closely monitored and if necessary abnormal cells can be destroyed or removed genital warts can be removed by treatments performed by a health care provider such as freezing or laser (in British Columbia it is covered by Medical Services Plan) or by self applied medication.
To reduce the risk of HPV, use good sex safety skills including regular infection screening and regular Pap tests for females. Also, males and females can now get vaccinated!
using protective barriers including condoms can reduce your risk, but the virus can still be spread through contact with an area that is not covered by the barrier
limiting your number of sexual partners can limit your exposure to HPV
Health Canada has approved 2 vaccines Gardasil™ and Cervarix™ for protection against HPV. Please read below for more information on the two different vaccinations available:
Gardasil is the trade name of the vaccine that offers protection against 4 types of HPV; HPV 6 and 11 which cause 90% of gential warts and HPV 16 and 18 which cause most cases of cervical and anal cancers. Gardasil™ vaccine is a series of 3 injections given at 0, 2, and 6 months. In Canada it is currently indicated for females aged 9-45 years and males aged 9-26 ideally before they become sexually active. However those who are already sexually active can benefit from Gardasil because they may not yet have HPV infection and are very unlikely to be infected with all 4 types (National Advisory Committee on Immunization). Currently, Gardasil is given provided *free of charge* to females 14-19 years old who have not already received the vaccine in school through public health. You can receive this vaccine at our Quadra St. clinic.
Cervarix™ is the trade name of the vaccine that offers protection against 2 types of HPV; HPV 16 and 18 which cause most cases of cervical cancers. Cervarix™ vaccine is a series of 3 injections given at 0,1, and 6 months. In Canada, Cervarix can help protect young women aged 10-25. Currently the Province of BC is providing Cervarix *free* for females under the age of 26 and born before 1994. You can receive this vaccine at our Quadra St. clinic.
Neither Gardasil™ nor Cervarix™ treat HPV-related diseases present at time of vaccination and do not protect against all HPV types. Routine cervical cancer screening is still necessary for women who have received vaccinations.
We offer both Gardasil and Cervarix immunizations at our clinics. Three injections are needed to complete either immunization series.