What is HPV?

HPV stands for Human Papiloma virus. There are more than 100 different HPV’s and Gardasil 9 ® vaccine targets the nine types of HPV responsible for 90 per cent of cervical cancer and 90 per cent genital warts. Clinical trials show it is highly effective in preventing these types of HPV in young men and women who have not previously been exposed to them.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are commonly transmitted viruses that can cause many types of cancer and other illnesses like genital warts.

Symptoms

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.

Immunisation

HPV immunization aims to protect young people from HPV infection and the risk of developing cervical cancer and a range of other HPV diseases later in life. Currently, around 150 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 50 women die from it each year in New Zealand. HPV immunization protects against infection from the types of HPV that cause most cervical, anal and genital cancers, as well as some mouth and throat cancers.

From 1 January 2017, HPV immunisation is free for everyone, male and female, aged 9 to 26, including non-residents under the age of 18.

For those aged 9 to 14 years, HPV vaccine is provided as two doses in the upper arm, spaced at least six months apart. This age group develops a stronger immune response than those vaccinated when they are older, which is why it is recommended for both boys and girls at age 11 to 12. Those aged 15 and older will need three doses. The immunization is expected to provide long-lasting protection.

The HPV vaccination is available through participating schools or from family doctors, local health centres and some Family Planning clinics. All students who are in the year 8 at school are offered the vaccine through a school-based immunisation programme.