What is HPV?

HPV stands for Human Papiloma virus. There are more than 100 different HPV’s and Gardasil® vaccine targets the four types of HPV responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer and 90 percent genital warts. Clinical trials show it is highly effective in preventing these types of HPV in young women who have not previously been exposed to them.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are common sexually transmitted viruses that can cause many types of cancer and other illnesses like genital warts. HPV can spread through skin to skin contact as well.


Some HPV types cause warts but do not lead to cancers. Other HPV types cause no obvious infection at the time, but can persist in cells of the genital tract.

Recurrent HPV infection can lead to cervical cancer as well as other cancers affecting the mouth, throat, vulva, vagina, cervix, penis and anus. It takes usually about 10-20 years from infection to the development of cancer.

Individuals can be infected with HPV without showing any signs or symptoms. For this reason, it is important for women to undergo regular Papanicolaou (Pap) cervical smear tests (every three years if no abnormalities are present).

How is it spread?

HPV is very contagious sexual intercourse is not the only way to spread the virus. The virus can be spread through skin to skin (hand-genital) contact, oral sex (mouth-genital contact) and from infected mothers to their newborn baby during the birth process.

Most HPV infections do not show any symptoms so most people do not know when they are infected. An infected person can still spread the virus to others even if there are no signs or symptoms of HPV infection.

  • The HPV vaccination is available through participating schools or from family doctors, local health centres and some Family Planning clinics. All girls who are in year 8 at school are offered the vaccine through a school-based immunisation programme.
  • Safe sexual practices
  • Regular (3 yearly) cervical smears.

“In New Zealand, approximately 50 women die each year from cervical cancer. The HPV immunisation programme was introduced to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer and other diseases caused by HPV. The number of abnormal smear tests and cases of genital warts has decreased significantly in young women since HPV vaccination started. We expect this will lead to a reduction in cervical cancer as vaccinated women reach the age in which cervical cancer develops.” Ministry of Health