“Help! Tell me what I need to know about HPV…”

This is a common question most Public Health Nurses have heard from parents making choices about vaccines for their children. As many people know, Public Health Nurses are well versed in vaccine knowledge. Connecting with a Public Health Nurse at your local health unit can help you navigate the immunization path and sort through all the research you’ve done on your own in order to make an informed choice for your child. Your home health unit can be located by visiting the Island Health Website.

In this information age, many parents like to look up information online. With so much out there, it is best to look at Canadian-based websites such as Immunize BC, BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the Canadian Cancer Society for more information about HPV.

Some of the most common questions Health Nurses hear are:

What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papilloma virus, and is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections.

How common is HPV?
75 per cent of Canadians will get HPV at some point in their lives.

Is HPV vaccine only for girls?
No, the vaccine can prevent HPV related cancers in both males and females.

Why is HPV vaccine offered in Grade 6?
• For best protection, the vaccine is given when it is unlikely that the child has been exposed to the virus. The immune system of a preteen responds better to the vaccine than older teens.

How many doses are needed?
Healthy children 9 – 14 years of age need 2 doses 6 months apart.

Healthy children 15 years and older need 3 doses given over a 6-month period.

Are HPV vaccines safe?
Yes, HPV vaccines are safe. Vaccines are approved for use in Canada only if they meet very strict standards for safety and effectiveness. The benefits of protection from the vaccine outweigh the very small risks associated with vaccination.

Is HPV vaccine free?
The HPV9 vaccine has protection against nine strains of the HPV virus and is provided free to:

• Girls and boys in grade 6

•Females born in 1994 or later who were not immunized at school or didn’t receive their entire a complete series of doses can also get the HPV9 vaccine

•Individuals 9 – 26 years of age who meet any of the following criteria: HIV positive, transgender, males who have sex with males, or males who are street involved

•Males 9 – 18 years who are in the care of Ministry of children and family Development, or in youth custody service centres

•For a complete list visit HealthLinkBC File Number 101b at healthlinkbc.ca

What protection does HPV vaccine offer?
The vaccine prevents almost a 100 per cent of cases of cervical cancers caused by the HPV types in the vaccine.

• 78 per cent of cases of anal cancers in men caused by the main two types of HPV are in the HPV9 vaccine

• 25 per cent – 35 per cent of mouth and throat cancers related to HPV

• Over 90per cent of genital warts are prevented

• 40 – 50 per cent of penile cancers are prevented

What are the expected side effects?
Common reactions to the vaccine may include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle or joint pain may also occur. Reactions usually resolve within 48 hours.

What happens if I get infected with HPV?
Most people with HPV do not show signs or symptoms and can pass the virus on to others without knowing it. Some HPV infections will clear on their own; others can lead to cancers over time.

Where can I get the HPV vaccine?
For those that are eligible for publicly-funded vaccine, HPV9 is available through your local health unit. For those who are not eligible for free vaccine it is available at most travel health clinics and pharmacies for purchase.

Who should not get the HPV vaccine?
Speak with your public health nurse if you or your child has had a life threatening reaction to a previous dose of HPV vaccine, or component of the vaccine including yeast.

Who should I talk to if I still have questions?
• Public Health Nurses at your local health unit can assist you if you have questions. To find your local health unit, visit the Island health website at islandhealth.ca.

Nina Knock RN(c), BScN is a Public Health Nurse Clinician with Island Health. She is an Immunization and Clinical Lead located at the Esquimalt Health Unit.