Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in Canada.
There are many different types of HPV. Some can affect the genital area of men and women including the skin of the penis, vulva (area outside the vagina) or anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, or rectum.
Most people with HPV infection do not know they have it because it usually causes no symptoms. But, HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer in women. The virus must be present for many years before it develops into cancer. It can also cause genital warts in both men and women.
A vaccine can help protect girls from several types of HPV that cause cancer and warts. In Canada, girls 9 to 13 years old should get the vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is approved for use in boys in Canada. Speak to your health care provider for more information.
How is HPV spread?
HPV infection is passed through sexual contact, either intercourse or sexual touching.
HPV is very common. People usually get it during the first 5 years after they start being sexually active. Up to 29% of adolescents and young adults under the age of 25 will be infected with HPV.
Who should get this vaccine?
Girls between the ages of 9 and 13 years should receive this vaccine. To be most effective, the vaccine needs to be given before any sexual activity starts.
Girls 14 and older can also get the vaccine. If your daughter did not get it as part of a regular school program you may have to pay for it.
Girls need 3 doses of the vaccine to be protected. The second dose is given 2 months after the first, and the third dose after 6 months.
Does the HPV vaccine protect against all sexually transmitted infections?
No. The HPV vaccine does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections. It also does not protect against all types of HPV. The vaccine does not work as well if girls have already been infected with the specific types of HPV that are in the vaccine.
Safe sex practices, such as using a condom, will help reduce the risk of other infections.
All females who are sexually active, including those who have received the HPV vaccine, should have regular Pap tests to check for cervical cancer.
How safe is the HPV vaccine?
It is very safe.
With any vaccine, there may be some redness, swelling or pain at the place where the needle went into the arm or leg.
Who should NOT get the vaccine?
An allergic reaction (such as trouble breathing, hives or a rash) to a previous dose is the only reason not to get HPV.
You do not need to wait to get the vaccine if you are sick with a minor cold or have a fever.
Where can I get the vaccine?
Talk to your doctor about the vaccine. When your daughter will get it will depend on the province or territory you live in.
More information from the CPS:
- HPV vaccine (Human papillomavirus): What teens need to know
- Human papillomavirus vaccine for children and adolescents, a statement of the Canadian Paediatric Society
For complete information on vaccinations in Canada, read Your Child’s Best Shot: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination.
Reviewed by the following CPS Committees:
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last updated: September 2010