A young boy and girl playing together.

In most cases of HPV infection there are no symptoms, so you may not even know you have it. Some people may get genital warts; others may be at risk of developing cervical and other cancers. Immunisation is recommended and funded during adolescence.

Did you know?

  • HPV infection is very common with nearly all the population having an HPV infection at some time in their lifetime.1
  • Most infections occur around the time a person becomes sexually active.
A young girl sitting on her bed working on her laptop.

What is it?

HPV infection is very common in both men and women and is transmitted through sexual contact. Of those infected, most initial infections generally occur shortly after becoming sexually active. Nearly all the general population will be infected with at least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives.1

Most genital HPV infections 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.

There are over 100 different types of HPV, some types of HPV are considered ‘high risk’, linked to the development of cancer. Others are 'low risk' and usually associated with non-cancerous lesions, such as genital warts. It is important to remember that not all HPV infections lead to cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Most genital HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and will clear on their own – in these cases, people may not even know they have it.

In a small number of women, infection with 'high-risk' HPV types can cause changes to cells in the cervix which, if left untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.

In addition to cervical cancer, HPV infection can also lead to head and neck cancer as well as other diseases of the genital region including vulvaI, vaginal, penile and anal cancer, as well as genital warts. Genital warts can appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. There are usually no symptoms associated with cancer, but some people may experience: bleeding after sex, pain during sex, abnormal period, vaginal bleeding or discharge or pain in the pelvis.   

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.

How is it spread?

HPV is 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 childbirth.

Given that most people don’t experience symptoms with HPV, they don’t know they are infected and can unwittingly spread the disease.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has any kind of sexual contact could get HPV. The risk of infection increases with the number of sexual partners you have.

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

The HPV Cervical Screening Test

In Australia, it’s recommended that all women aged 25 to 74 years have HPV Cervical Screening Tests (new test introduced in December 2017, to replace Pap Smear) to check for abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The first of these tests is due two years after your last Pap Smear. After that, you only need the test every five years if your result is normal.

Who should be vaccinated?

  • The HPV vaccine is recommended for adolescents aged 9-18 years and is provided free in school-based programs for 12 to 13 year olds only as part of the National Immunisation Program (NIP). If your child begins immunisation at 15 years of age, a different dosing schedule may be required, which may not be funded. Speak to your doctor for more information.

    Current HPV vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV. They will also not have any effect on HPV infections acquired before immunisation. So, although your risk may be reduced, it is still possible to develop HPV-related abnormalities, including cervical cancer, even after being immunised. Immunisation is not an ‘alternative’ to cervical screening. Please speak to your doctor for more information about HPV infection and immunisation.

    Immunisation schedule

    •  Immunisation funded via the National Immunisation Program (NIP)
    •  Immunisation recommended by experts but is not funded
    Diseases Birth 2 months 4 months 6 months 12 months 18 months 4 years 10 to <15 years 15-19 years
    Chickenpox (varicella)+                  
    A second dose of varicella vaccine is recommended any time between 4 years of age and less than 14 years, at least 4 weeks after the first dose. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Diphtheria                  
     
    Hepatitis A+                  
    Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine are recommended and NIP-funded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at 12 months and 18 months living in certain areas. A two-dose schedule (which is not funded) is also recommended for some medically at-risk children and adolescents. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Hepatitis B+                  
    An additional booster vaccine is recommended at 12 months of age for preterm infants who were born at less than 32 weeks gestation or whose birth weight was under 2000 grams. Speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Haemophilus influenzae
    type b (Hib)
                     
     
    Human Papillomavirus (HPV)                  
     
    Measles                  
     
    Meningococcal ACWY disease+                  
    The meningococcal ACWY vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. A free dose is given at 12 months of age. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Meningococcal B disease+                  
    The meningococcal B vaccine is strongly recommended (but not funded) for children less than 2 years of age, adolescents (15 - 19 years), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (2 months - 19 years), and those aged at or above 2 months with certain medical conditions. For anyone wishing to reduce their risk of meningococcal disease the vaccine is recommended if their doctor deems it appropriate. Speak to your doctor to learn more or see who is most at risk of meningococcal disease here.
    Mumps                  
     
    Pneumococcal disease+                  
    An additional dose of pneumococcal vaccine is recommended and NIP-funded at 6 months of age for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Two additional doses (at 6 months and 4 years) are recommended and NIP-funded for medically-at risk children. Further doses may be recommended and funded during adolescence depending on risk – speak to your doctor to learn more.
    Polio                  
     
    Rotavirus                  
     
    Rubella                  
     
    Tetanus                  
     
    Whooping cough (pertussis)                  
     
    Annual flu+      
     

     

     

     

     

     
    The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all people aged 6 months and over. Influenza vaccine is funded under the NIP for those at or above 6 months of age with certain medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 6 months to under 5 years and those aged at or above 15 years. Learn more about who should receive flu vaccination.
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  • Adults are not routinely recommended to receive HPV vaccine; however, it is recommended for those with a compromised immune system or men who have sex with men. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

Treatment

There is no treatment for the virus itself, but there are treatments for the problems that HPV can cause. Treatments will vary depending on the symptoms and type of HPV-related abnormality.

Important information

For further information about HPV immunisation, speak to your doctor.

Some side effects may be experienced following immunisation. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Centre for disease control and prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/whatishpv.html (accessed September 2018)

AUS/VAC/0072/18 Date of Approval: November 2018