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Human papillomavirus (HPV)

did you know?

Certain high risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV) - most commonly HPV types 16 and 18 - can cause cervical cancer.

HPV - What is it?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common viral infection in both men and women, with initial infection generally occurring within a few years of becoming sexually active. Approximately three quarters of the general population will be infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives.

Most genital HPV infections will clear naturally within 12 to 24 months, however, in a small number of people the virus remains for longer. These people are at risk of developing certain types of cancers, including cervical cancer in women, which is the most common HPV-related cancer in Australia.

Certain HPV types are more strongly associated with the development of cancer and are considered ‘high-risk’, while other HPV types are classified as ‘low-risk’ and are usually associated with non-cancerous lesions, such as genital warts.

HPV - What are the symptoms?

Most genital HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and will clear on their own, therefore people often don't know they have it. In a small number of women, infection with 'high-risk' HPV types can lead to cell changes in the cervix, which if left untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.

 A pap smear is used to find any abnormal cell changes in the cervix. Australia has a successful National Cervical Screening Program which has helped to reduce the number of cases and deaths from cervical cancer. Regular pap smears are important.

As well as cervical cancer, symptoms of HPV infection can also appear as other diseases of the genital region including vulval, vaginal and anal cancer, as well as genital warts. Genital warts can appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following HPV infection. Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about HPV infection.

HPV - How is it spread?

HPV is easily spread through most types of sexual activity with a person who has the virus. In rare cases, the virus can also spread with non-sexual activity, such as during child birth.

A person can transmit HPV to another person without even knowing that they are infected, as most people will not have any symptoms.

HPV - Who is at risk?

Anyone who has any kind of sexual activity could get HPV. Approximately three quarters of people will be infected with at some time in their lives, but most will clear the infection without any consequences.The risk of infection also increases with the  number of sexual partners.

Other people may be at a greater risk of HPV infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

HPV - Vaccination

HPV vaccination is recommended for people aged 9 to 18 years, but is best given at the age of 11 to 13 years. The vaccine is provided free in school-based programs for 12 to 13 year old boys and girls as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). As genital HPV is most commonly spread by sexual contact, funded vaccination is offered to males and females at this age (before they become sexually active), to help prevent initial infection with the HPV types included in the vaccine.

Vaccination of people 19 years and older is not routinely recommended, as many are likely to have been exposed to one or more vaccine HPV types through sexual activity. Some adult men and women may benefit from HPV vaccination and should discuss their individual circumstances with their doctor.

HPV vaccination involves 3 injections, usually given over a 6-month period. It is important that all three injections are received to help protect against HPV infection.

Current HPV vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV. They will also not have any effect on HPV infections acquired before vaccination. So, although your risk is reduced, it is still possible to develop HPV related abnormalities, including cervical cancer, even after vaccination.

Regular pap tests are recommended for all sexually active women from the age of 18 to 69 years of age, even if they have been vaccinated.

HPV - Treatment

There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the problems that HPV can cause.

Depending on the symptoms and type of HPV related abnormality, your doctor will discuss with you an appropriate course of treatment.

For information about HPV immunisation in your area, contact your State or Territory Health Department or doctor.


Some side effects may be experienced following vaccination. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with healthcare professional.




AUS/VAC/0029/15. Date of approval: April 2015.