1. What is Human papillomavirus?
HPV is a large family of viruses that infect the skin and mucous linings of the airways and genitals. There are around 100 different types of HPV. The initial infection itself rarely causes any symptoms and clears without treatment within a year or two. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts which will require treatment from your doctor. Infection with some high-risk types of HPV is known to be an underlying cause of certain cancers, including cervical cancer and other genital cancers. 99% of cervical cancers are associated with HPV infection.
2. How do you catch HPV?
HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection. It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact including vaginal, anal and oral sex, as well as sharing sex toys. Using a condom does not give complete protection against HPV. Without symptoms, you will not know if you have been infected. Anogenital warts caused by HPV is the most common STI in the UK. You can become infected with more than one type of HPV.
3. How do I know if I already have HPV?
From the age of 25 women are tested for HPV during routine cervical screening appointments. A swab of cells is taken and tested for different types of HPV. Men can be tested for HPV if they attend a sexual health clinic.
4. Who should have the HPV vaccine?
HPV vaccine is routinely offered to all girls and boys aged 11 to 14 years. It is usually offered at the age of 12-13, in school year 8 in England and Wales, S1 in Scotland and year 9 in Northern Ireland. Vaccinating children before they become sexually active will prevent HPV infection in later life. You remain eligible for vaccination until you are 25 years of age, although the sooner you are vaccinated the less likely you are to already be infected. Men who have sex with men are eligible for vaccination at sexual health clinics until the age of 45 years.
5. Can the vaccine cause HPV infection?
The vaccines contain virus-like particles which mimic the shape of the real virus. Your immune system will make antibodies which will attack the real virus if you encounter it. The virus-like particles do not contain any DNA, they cannot replicate and they cannot infect cells, so the vaccine cannot cause HPV infection.
6. Will the vaccine stop me from getting HPV?
HPV vaccines are very effective at protecting you from infection with the types of HPV included in the vaccine. You will be protected from four main types of HPV, two of which (6 and 11) cause genital warts and two (16 and 18) cause cervical cancer. Some vaccines contain 9 different types of HPV. The HPV vaccine will not protect you if you are already infected with the HPV type(s) included in the vaccine.
7. Why should I have HPV vaccine?
Having the vaccine before you become sexually active will prevent you from getting the most common types of HPV infection. If you are a girl the vaccine will prevent you from getting cervical cancer when you are older. Both boys and girls will be protected from getting genital warts. Getting vaccinated will prevent boys from spreading HPV infections to their sexual partners later in life. By vaccinating all girls and boys before they become sexually active we can eradicate HPV infections from the population and prevent the vast majority of cervical cancers.
1. Public Health England (PHE) gateway number 2019059; Human papillomavirus (HPV): the green book, chapter 18a; Published 20 March 2013, Last updated 12 July 2019; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/human-papillomavirus-hpv-the-green-book-chapter-18a