Human papilloma virus (HPV)
Why be immunised against HPV?
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer in women. The virus is spread by sexual intercourse but usually does not cause any symptoms. HPV has 100 types, of which two, types 16 and 18, are the most common in causing cancer (high-risk types of HPV). Other low-risk types cause anal and vaginal warts. The virus lies dormant in the cells lining the cervix of the vagina, and causes mutations that can become malignant. About 30% of women are infected within two years of becoming sexually active. Screening for cervical cancer has reduced the death-rate for this disease, but is incomplete as a method of prevention. In 2005, after 20 years of cervical cancer screening, there were 2253 women had invasive cervical cancer diagnosed in England, of whom a third might die within 5 years.
Immunisation can prevent the pre-cancerous damage to cervical cells caused by types 16 and 18 HPV. Clinical trials showed that the two available vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, give 99% protection against these types of HPV to young women, for at least 6 years.
Who should have HPV vaccine and when?
Girls aged 12 -13 years. The vaccination will normally be given at school. Girls aged 14 -18 who have recently arrived in the UK should also be offered HPV vaccine.
The vaccine is given in three doses, the second dose being 1-2 months after the first and the third at 6 months after the first.
Who should not have HPV vaccine or should wait?
- Children who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of HPV vaccine should not have another dose.
- Children who are acutely ill at the time the injection is due should usually wait until they recover before having HPV vaccine. If a dose is delayed, there is no need to start again.
- HPV vaccine should not be given in pregnancy. This is a standard precaution, as safety in pregnancy has not been proved.
- Ask your doctor or nurse for more information.
What are the risks from HPV vaccine?
A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.
The risk of HPV vaccine causing serious harm or death is extremely small.
Most girls who have HPV vaccine do not have any problems with it.
- Redness, tenderness, or swelling where the injection was given (up to 1 in 4 of children).
Severe Problems (Very Rare)
- Serious allergic reaction (less than 1 out of a million doses).
What if there is a severe reaction?
What to look for?
Any unusual conditions, such as a serious allergic reaction or high fever. Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare with any vaccine. If one were to occur, it would most likely be within a few minutes to a few hours after the injection. Signs can include difficulty in breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, a rash like a nettle sting, paleness, weakness, a fast pulse or dizziness.
What to do
- Call a doctor, or take the person to a doctor right away.
- Tell your doctor what happened, when it happened, and when the immunisation was given.
- Ask your doctor, nurse (including health visitor) to report the reaction to the Committee on the Safety of Medicines by a “yellow card”(form at the back of the British National Formulary).
Ask your doctor or school nurse. They can suggest other sources of information and they can obtain more advice for you from the local immunisation co-ordinator or health protection unit.
Last reviewed June 2011.
Last updated June 2011.