How you can get HPV

HPV – which stands for Human Papillomavirus – is a sexually transmitted virus that you can catch from an infected person through:

  • sexual activity, including oral sex
  • intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected person

You don't have to have intercourse (sex) to get HPV.

Without immunization, 3 out of 4 sexually active Canadians will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives.

Signs and symptoms

There are many different types of HPV and most people with HPV don't develop any signs or symptoms. You can also develop symptoms years after you've been infected.

HPV is dangerous because it can cause life-threatening diseases. Some types of HPV can cause:

  • genital warts
  • cervical, penile, head or neck cancer
  • other cancers

Best age to get the vaccine

For maximum protection, people should get the vaccine before becoming sexually active and, ideally, around age 11 or 12 (grade 7).

Ontario students in grade 7 can get the vaccine for free.

Under the age of 26

If you'd like to get the HPV vaccine – and you're under 26 – speak to a primary health care provider or local public health unit. The vaccine can be purchased privately with a prescription and may be covered through private insurance.

The vaccine is safe

HPV vaccines are approved by Health Canada, and are very safe. You can't become infected with HPV from the vaccines.

You shouldn't get an HPV vaccine if you've had a life-threatening allergic reaction (also known as anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the HPV vaccine.

What to expect

All students in grade 7 can get the HPV vaccine for free in their school.

Public health units plan and organize immunization clinics at schools throughout the year. In most cases parents or guardians must sign a consent form before a student will be vaccinated. The form also includes information about the vaccine.

The vaccine is usually given in 2 injections, at least 6 months apart. Some people – for example older students and people with weakened immune systems – may get 3 injections over 6 months. You need all doses to get full protection.

The HPV vaccine is not mandatory and is not required for school attendance, under the Immunization of School Pupils Act.