Island Sexual Health Society Be informed, not surprised!

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV, genital warts)

2010 July 05

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 anal genital cancers. A new vaccine is now available that protects against some types of HPV.

* “HPV symptoms”:#symptoms
* “How HPV spreads”:#spread
* “HPV tests and diagnosis”:#tests
* “HPV treatment”:#treatment
* “Preventing HPV”:#prevent
* “Gardasil vaccine”:#gardasil
* “Cervarix vaccine”:#cervarix

“Make an appointment”:/about/appointments/ at any of our clinics in Greater Victoria to get tested for genital warts, or to have a “Pap test”:/exams/female/ to check for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.

For further reading, see our “links and other resources”:/resources/external/.

For information on the provincial immunization program for girls in grades 6 and 9, “click here”:http://www.immunizebc.ca/ImmVacPrevDis/human+papillomavirus+%28HPV%29.htm

h3(#symptoms). Symptoms of HPV and genital warts

*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, moist, flesh-coloured painless swellings. 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, cervix, penis, scrotum, groin or thigh.

h3(#spread). How HPV spreads

HPV is the most common STI in the world and the rates continue to rise.

* it is estimated that at least 75% of sexually active people will have at least 1 HPV infection in their lifetime.
* many people infected with HPV do not have any symptoms and are unaware they are infected but can pass on the virus.

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

h3(#tests). HPV tests and diagnosis

* genital warts are diagnosed by visual inspection
* women are often diagnosed with HPV on the basis of abnormal “Pap tests”:/exams/female/, therefore it is important for all sexually active females to get regular Pap tests
* the Pap test screens for pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, most of which are related to HPV
* HPV DNA testing is now available for women (cervical swab) however it costs $100.00 and the test kit must be ordered ahead from MDS Toronto which is where the test is processed.

“Make an appointment”:/about/appointments/ to have a Pap test or to see a doctor about genital warts.

h3(#treatment). HPV treatment

* 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

h3(#prevent). Preventing HPV

To reduce the risk of HPV, use good “sex safety”:/sex-safety/ skills including regular “infection screening”:/infections/ and regular “Pap tests”:/exams/female/ for females. Also, males and females can now get vaccinated!

* using protective barriers including “condoms”:/sex-safety/using-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
* Vaccination
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:

h3(#gardasil). 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 70% of cervical cancers. Gardasil™ vaccine is a series of 3 injections given at 0, 2, and 6 months. In Canada it is currently indicated for females 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).

h3(#cervarix). Cervarix™
Cervarix™ is the trade name of the vaccine that offers protection against 2 types of HPV; HPV 16 and 18 which cause 70% 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.

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.

“Contact our clinics”:/about/contact/ if you have any questions about HPV or immunizations.