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Disease Information / Human Papillomavirus

Human Papillomavirus

What is it

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a relatively common virus that affects men and women. There are different types of HPV that affect different parts of the body. In some instances the virus stays in the body for months or years, causing changes to cells that can lead to HPV-related cancers and diseases.1

Who is at risk and what are the symptoms

HPV could potentially impact any sexually active man and woman. It is predicted that four out of five Australians will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives. Because there are different types of HPV, different parts of the body can be affected by the virus. HPV can cause genital warts, but these strains of the virus do not cause cancer. In other instances, HPV doesn’t have symptoms so people infected with the virus may not know they have it. In some cases HPV can cause penile, anal, cervical, vulval and vaginal cancers. 1

How is it spread

The strains of the HPV virus causing genital disorders are passed from person to person through sexual contact.1

How is it prevented

The most effective way to prevent HPV is through vaccination. The vaccine is most effective given before someone is sexually active. The vaccination is provided in three doses over a six month period. To ensure best protection, it is important to ensure all three doses are administered. Australia has a school-based HPV Vaccination Program. The vaccine is available to students aged 12 to 13 years. 1

How is it diagnosed and treated

As there are often no symptoms of HPV, many people are never aware they have the virus. The most effective way for women to monitor health is to have regular pap smears, which monitor abnormal cells on the cervix. In most cases the immune system clears many HPV strains from the body naturally over time. 2

Where to get help

Speak to a General Practitioner (GP) about the HPV vaccination. Sexually active women should proactively monitor their health with regular pap smear tests, which can also be provided by a GP.


  1. Immunise Australia Program:
  2. Cancer Council HPV Vaccine: