Common questions about HPV

What is HPV (human papillomavirus)?

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a family of viruses that can cause infections that lead to skin warts, genital warts and, most notably, cancer. In fact, HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancers in women, and approximately 100% of head and neck cancers in Albertan men under the age of 40.

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What causes HPV?

HPV infection is passed through sexual contact.

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What are the symptoms of HPV?

Most HPV infections cause no immediate symptoms, as the diseases that HPV infections cause – such as cancer – develop over time. Symptoms associated with those infections and diseases vary.

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What can happen to my child if he or she gets HPV?

HPV can cause a number of serious health issues, including many kinds of cancer. HPV is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancers in women, and approximately 100% of head and neck cancers in Albertan men under the age of 40. And that’s in addition to anal, penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Anal and genital warts are also caused by HPV.

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Is there a treatment or cure for HPV?

There is no cure for HPV infections, but, some of the diseases that HPV causes (for example, cancer) can be treated.

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Who is at risk of HPV?

HPV is very common, and is a serious health risk for the majority of the population: 70% of Albertans will get an HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV is so common, even people who have minimal sexual activity are at risk. In fact, many women acquire HPV infection from their first sexual partner.

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At what age is it recommended that my child be immunized against HPV?

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to children long before they begin any sexual activity.

Three doses of the HPV vaccine, given within a six-month period, are required to provide full protection. Your child is recommended to receive all three doses of this vaccine in Grade 5. In Alberta, the HPV vaccine is offered to Grade 5 students (boys and girls) at the same time as the hepatitis B vaccine. Most children will be offered this vaccine at school, as part of their in-school immunization program (in Grade 5). If your child attends a school that does not offer HPV as part of the Grade 5 in-school immunization program, your child can be immunized at your local Community Health Centre or Public Health Office instead.

If you are uncertain about immunizing your son or daughter against HPV, here’s a tool designed specifically for you, to help you weigh the pros and cons, and reach a decision that you’re comfortable with.

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My son did not receive HPV immunization when he was in Grade 5. What should I do?

Boys who did not receive the HPV vaccine in Grade 5 prior to September 2014 will instead be offered the HPV vaccine when they reach Grade 9. This Grade 9 catch-up program will run for four years only, through 2018. As of September 2014, all Grade 5 boys will be offered the HPV vaccine, as part of the Grade 5 immunization program.

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Are there side effects to the HPV vaccine?

Sometimes there are mild side effects like slight pain or soreness in the local area of the shot. Less commonly, there may be fever, nausea, dizziness, headache, vomiting or fainting.

If you are uncertain about immunizing your son or daughter against HPV, here’s a tool designed specifically for you, to help you weigh the pros and cons, and reach a decision that you’re comfortable with.

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Is the HPV vaccine effective?

The HPV vaccine is effective in preventing long-lasting HPV infections which are the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancers in women and almost 100% of head and neck cancers in men.

Providing HPV vaccine to all individuals in an age group (e.g. one grade in school) will dramatically reduce the rates of cancer – and deaths caused by cancer – for future generations.

If you are uncertain about immunizing your son or daughter against HPV, here’s a tool designed specifically for you, to help you weigh the pros and cons, and reach a decision that you’re comfortable with.

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Does the HPV vaccine promote earlier sexual activity?

No, the HPV vaccine does not encourage earlier sexual activity. In fact, a study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “HPV vaccination in the recommended ages was not associated with increased sexual activity–related outcome rates.” Click here to read the full study.

If you are uncertain about immunizing your son or daughter against HPV, here’s a tool designed specifically for you, to help you weigh the pros and cons, and reach a decision that you’re comfortable with.

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Is this disease called any other names?

HPV is the short name for human papillomavirus.

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Why should I immunize my child when he or she isn’t even sexually active yet?

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to children before they begin any sexual activity.

You may decide to speak with your child about sex, when explaining the HPV immunization to him or her. 

Even if you are not ready to have this discussion, you can tell your child that the HPV immunization will protect him or her from cancer.

If you are uncertain about immunizing your son or daughter against HPV, here’s a tool designed specifically for you, to help you weigh the pros and cons, and reach a decision that you’re comfortable with.

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My child is in Grade 5 but HPV vaccine isn’t offered at his or her school? What should I do?

If your child attends a school that doesn’t include the HPV immunization in the Grade 5 in-school immunization program, you can book your child to be immunized at your local AHS Community Health Centre or Public Health Office.

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