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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Sexually Transmitted Blood Borne Infections (STIs/STBBIs) are a group of infections (viral and bacterial) that are transmitted by exposure to blood and other bodily fluids and/ or with sex. Common STBBI’s include HPV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, HSV, Hep C, and Hep B. This page will help you to better understand one of these infections, Human Papillomavirus, commonly called HPV

If you have questions about HPV, please schedule an appointment with a doctor at the Dalhousie Student Health and Wellness Centre (Halifax), or nurse at Health Services (Truro).

What is HPV and what does it do?

In Canada, HPV is the Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) that is most commonly spread among sexually active individuals. It is important to note that almost everyone who is sexually active will come into contact with HPV at least once in their lifetime, as it is a group of more than 100 different viruses.

The age group most affected by this virus is those between 20 and 24 years old, making preventative measures especially important for university students. It is important to know that certain types of HPV can lead to cancer while others can cause genital warts. However, there is a vaccine that can help prevent HPV infection.

How do you get HPV?

Opportunities for infection include condomless oral, vaginal, or anal sex, or any sexual activity involving intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual and/ or shared sex toys. HPV is rarely passed from parent to infant during birth.

What are the signs and symptons of HPV?

Most HPV infections are transient and asymptomatic. Transient, meaning the infection will go away without treatment and asymptomatic, meaning they have no symptoms. Without protection the infection can lead to:

  • Warts or Sores
  • Itchiness
  • Discomfort during intercourse
  • Bleeding with intercourse or with shaving
  • During pregnancy, warts may increase in size and number and then decrease after delivery
  • Cervical cancer (often no symptoms, bleeding between periods or after intercourse)
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat, penis, or anus

Is there a cure for HPV?

While there is no specific treatment for the virus, there are ways to manage the health concerns that may arise from HPV. Genital warts, for instance, can be treated with prescription medication or by a healthcare provider. If left unattended, genital warts can disappear, remain the same, or worsen. Cervical precancer is also treatable, especially if detected early through regular Pap tests. Prevention is always the best course of action. Additionally, other HPV-linked cancers are more treatable if caught and treated early.

How can HPV be prevented?

Using condoms correctly and consistently can help to reduce the transmission of HPV. However, HPV can be spread from skin-to-skin contact from areas not covered by a condom. 

The most effective way to prevent HPV and HPV-related cancers is using the HPV vaccine. The vaccine works best when given to individuals prior to being sexually active. 

Individuals 15 years or older or immunocompromised will get 3 doses of the HPV vaccine- include dosing schedule. Youth who are under 15 typically receive 2 doses, 6 months apart and are covered by most provincial public health units.  

How to learn more about getting the HPV vaccine:

Book an appointment online with the Student Health & Wellness Centre (Halifax) or Health Services (Truro).

  • If it’s your first time booking an appointment at the Student Health & Wellness Centre, please call 902-494-2171 to set up your profile.
  • If you have accessed the Centre before, you can book your appointment with a nurse online or by phone at 902-494-2171.
    • If you are booking an appointment with a nurse, please note that there is a same-day appointment option.