Frequently Asked Questions
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

How can you find out if you're carrying the virus?

Most people with HPV do not develop any signs and symptoms and may not know they have been infected with HPV.

The appearance of genital warts is one way HPV infection is diagnosed.

There is no approved routine screening test for HPV-associated diseases other than cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer can be detected with routine cervical cancer screening (Pap test) and follow-up of abnormal results. An HPV DNA test may be used to detect certain HPV types which can cause cancer.

Can HPV to go away on its own?

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. However, when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer.

How many people get HPV?

If not immunized, it is estimated that 75% of sexually active Canadians will have an HPV infection at some point in their lives.

Can you get HPV without having sex?

HPV is usually spread during sexual activity (including oral sex) involving intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. It is not necessary to have intercourse to get HPV. HPV can be spread even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.

Do boys get HPV?

Yes, males can be infected with HPV which can cause HPV-related genital warts and cancers, such as anal and penile. As with females, receiving the HPV vaccine between 9 and 13 years of age, before becoming sexually active, is recommended as this is the age where the benefits are maximized.

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The HPV Vaccine

What are the ingredients in the HPV vaccine?

Gardasil is the HPV vaccine used in Ontario's HPV immunization program.

Gardasil® contains proteins of HPV Types 6, 11, 16 and 18 (produced in yeast),aluminum (as amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate adjuvant), sodium chloride, L-histidine, polysorbate 80, sodium borate, and water for injection. Gardasil does not contain any antibiotics or preservatives. It does not contain mercury or thimerosal.

Aluminum added as an adjuvant helps kill bacteria and make the vaccine as safe and effective as possible. Adjuvants create a stronger immune response in the patient's body. In other words, adjuvants help vaccines work better.

Aluminum salts have been used safely since 1926, and are present in other vaccines such as that prevent viral or bacterial diseases such as hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough the amount of aluminum that can be added to vaccines is controlled by Health Canada.

You cannot become infected with HPV from the HPV vaccine.

How effective is the HPV vaccine?

HPV4 (Gardasil) is the HPV vaccine used in Ontario's publicly funded HPV immunization program and protects against four types of HPV – types 6, 11, 16 and 18. Gardasil has demonstrated very high efficacy in preventing the targeted HPV types for which the vaccine is indicated, as well as the most common health problems caused by them.

How many years does the vaccine protection last?

The exact duration of protection of either 2 doses or 3 doses of HPV vaccine has not yet been established. Studies are ongoing to determine the length of time for which the vaccines will provide protection and if further immunization or a booster dose is necessary for continued protection.

What are the side effects of the HPV vaccine?

Prior to receiving any vaccine, you should always discuss the benefits and risks with your health care provider. Gardasil® has been shown to be generally well tolerated. However, as with all vaccines, there may be some side effects. The most common side effects are mild and include: arm pain, swelling or redness where the injection is given.

Other side effects that have been reported include:

Serious reactions from HPV vaccine are rare.

Public health nurses administer the vaccine and are present at school clinics at all times. They are trained to recognize and manage side effects, including any severe allergic reactions.

Who should not get the HPV vaccine?

You should not get the HPV vaccine if you:

For other circumstances including pregnancy, previous side effects to a dose of HPV vaccine, and illness or fever on the day the vaccine is to be given, talk to your local public health unit or health care provider.

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HPV Vaccine Safety

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

The HPV vaccine is very safe and effective. It has been carefully tested and evaluated before receiving approval by Health Canada. The HPV vaccine is approved for use in over 100 countries. Over 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide. Extensive, ongoing monitoring done in Canada and globally continues to show that the HPV vaccine is very safe.

You cannot become infected with HPV from the vaccine.

Learn more about vaccine safety in Ontario.

What safety standards exist to ensure HPV and other vaccines are safe?

Vaccine safety is a high priority. Each new vaccine must pass a rigorous licensing process by Health Canada before it is approved and authorized for sale in Canada.

Sufficient scientific and clinical evidence must be collected to show that it is safe, efficacious and of suitable quality. This scientific evidence includes results from human clinical trials. Gardasil, the HPV vaccine used in Ontario, has been thoroughly tested in order to meet Health Canada's standards for safety efficacy and quality.

Once in use, the vaccine continues to be monitored for safety, quality and efficacy. Surveillance systems are used to monitor any potential adverse events following immunization (AEFI). An AEFI is an unwanted or unexpected health effect that happens after someone receives a vaccine, which may or may not be caused by the vaccine

In Ontario, health professionals are required to report adverse events following immunization to their local public health unit. Public health units investigate adverse events and provide support to immunizers, individuals and their families.

Public Health Ontario analyzes AEFI that are reported in Ontario to monitor the safety of administered vaccines and contribute to national and international vaccine safety surveillance systems.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is responsible for the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System, a federal/provincial/territorial vaccine safety monitoring system.

Learn more about vaccine safety, regulation and reporting in Canada.

Learn more about vaccine safety in Ontario.

Is the HPV vaccine continually monitored?

Ontario monitors vaccine safety by reviewing reports of side effects submitted by healthcare providers or parents to local Public Health Units.

Learn more about vaccine safety in Ontario.

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HPV Immunization at an early Age

Why is the vaccine offered in Grade 7 now?

Shifting the HPV school-based immunization program from Grade 8 to Grade 7(when youth are 12, going on 13 years of age) aligns with expert recommendations from Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization to immunize, as a priority, youth between 9 and 13 years of age prior to onset of sexual activity, when the vaccine benefits are maximized.

Receiving the vaccine at a young age is an investment in long-term health.

Can older students still get vaccinated against HPV?

The benefits of the HPV vaccine are maximized when a person receives the vaccine prior to onset of sexual activity and exposure to HPV. For those who may miss being vaccinated in Grade 7, however, they continue to be eligible up until the end of Grade 12.

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Ontario's HPV Immunization Program

Is the HPV vaccine required for school attendance in Ontario?

HPV immunization is voluntary. The vaccine is not required for school attendance, under the Immunization of School Pupils Act, however it is strongly recommended to protect against the HPV infection.

Who is eligible to get the publicly funded HPV vaccine?

Effective 2016-2017 school year, all students in Grade 7 are eligible for the HPV vaccine through school-based clinics. Previously, the vaccine was offered to Grade 8 females only.

Female students beginning Grade 8 in the transitional 2016-2017 school year will still be able to receive the two-dose HPV vaccine in school-based clinics to ensure they don't miss the opportunity to be immunized.

Students in Grade 7 who are unable to begin or complete the HPV vaccine series in the 2016-2017 school year are eligible to catch-up on missed doses, free of charge, until they finish Grade 12.

Contact your local public health unit for more information about eligibility.

Why the expansion to boys?

Including boys in Ontario's publicly-funded HPV immunization program will help protect them from HPV infection and related cancers, and is recommended expert groups such as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

How is the HPV vaccination program administered in schools?

Public health units plan and organize school-based immunization clinics throughout the school year. The public health unit works with the school to ensure it does not conflict or disrupt other important activities such as exams and school trips. Clinics can be scheduled in the morning or afternoon, during regular school hours.

Schools will distribute consent forms provided by the local public health unit. These consent forms also include information about the vaccine that will be administered by the Public Health Unit.

Clinics are usually held within an area of a school that is safe and appropriate, such as the school gymnasium.

Is the vaccine available at the doctor's office?

The HPV vaccine is administered primarily in schools by Public Health Unit nurses. There may be situations where other health care providers (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners) may administer the publicly-funded HPV vaccine after obtaining it from the public health unit. Speak to your local public health unit for more information.

What if a Grade 7 student misses one of the doses of HPV vaccine?

Catch-up immunizations can be arranged by contacting your local public health. Boys or girls in Grade 7 who are unable to begin or complete the HPV vaccine series in the 2016-2017 school year are eligible to catch-up on missed doses through their local public health unit, free of charge, until they finish Grade 12. You need all the recommended doses to get full protection. Contact your local Public Health Unit to find out more.

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For More Information

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