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What is Human Papillomavirus (HPV)?

HPV is a very common virus that can cause many types of cancers, including cervical, penile, and anal cancer, and genital warts.  HPV can infect both males and females.  If not immunized, about 3 out of 4 people will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime.

What are symptoms of HPV?

Most people with HPV do not get any signs or symptoms, and may not know that they have been infected.  They can pass the virus to others without even knowing it.  Some people find out after they develop genital warts or abnormal cervical cancer screening during their Pap test.

How does it spread?

  • Skin-to-skin contact, including unprotected sexual activity.
  • A pregnant woman with HPV can pass it to her newborn baby during delivery.

How can I prevent HPV?

The best way to prevent HPV is getting the HPV vaccine.  There are two HPV vaccines offered in Ontario.

  • The HPV4 vaccine (Gardasil ®) protects against four types of HPV (type 16, 18, 6, and 11).  These types are known to cause most cervical, anal, and penile cancers, and genital warts.
  • The HPV9 vaccine (Gardasil®9) also protects against the same types of HPV as the HPV4 vaccine. In addition, it protects against another five HPV types (type 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58).  Thus, the HPV9 vaccine prevents up to an additional 14 percent of anogenital cancers.

It is important to complete the entire vaccine series.  You cannot get a HPV infection from the vaccine.  The HPV vaccine will not treat an existing HPV infection.

As well, protect yourself by using condoms or dental dams every time you have sex.

Are there side effects from HPV vaccine?

Gardasil is very safe and effective.  The most common side effects include arm pain, swelling or redness.  Serious reactions are rare.

How do I get the vaccine?

In Ontario, Grade 7 girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine for free through the school-based immunization program.  Other individuals eligible for the free vaccine include those who are 26 years of age or younger and who identify as gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, including some trans people.

Some private insurance programs may cover the cost of the vaccine.  The Health Unit offers Gardasil®9 at cost for $155 currently.  Contact the Health Unit to see if you are eligible for the free vaccine.

For more information contact the Health Unit or speak to your health care provider.

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