Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Human papillomavirus and HPV vaccine

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus that is spread through sexual contact.
  • In some cases, HPV can cause genital warts or cancer, but many people do not experience any symptoms at all.
  • The virus can live in the skin for many years, and most people have HPV at some time in their lives.
  • The best way to protect yourself and others against HPV is to be vaccinated.

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus that is spread through sexual contact. Most people do not experience any symptoms of HPV and the virus often goes away by itself. But in some people, HPV causes genital warts or cancer.

HPV can affect any male or female who is sexually active, even if they only experience sexual contact once. Most people have HPV at some time in their lives.

There are many different types of HPV virus some are considered 'low risk' while others are 'high risk'. Low-risk HPV types can cause genital warts and do not cause cancer.

High-risk types of HPV can cause cervical cancer or other cancers, including:

  • anal cancer
  • vaginal cancer
  • cancer of the vulva
  • cancer of the penis
  • oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils)

What are the symptoms of HPV?

Most people infected with HPV have no symptoms. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts. These are small growths on or around the genitals and anus that may be:

  • flat or raised
  • single or multiple
  • clustered

If you are infected with a type of HPV that causes cancer, the virus can cause changes to the cervical cells, which can eventually lead to cancer. There are usually no symptoms, but some people may notice:

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How does HPV spread?

HPV is spread through genital to skin contact during sexual activity through tiny breaks in the skin. The virus can live in the skin for many years. It may spread to another person even if there are no visible genital warts.

How is HPV diagnosed?

Diagnosis of HPV is usually made by checking symptoms, examination and, for women, doing a Cervical Screening Test. This test, which replaced the Pap smear, can detect high-risk HPV. There is no blood test to detect HPV.

Anyone participating in Cervical Screening also has the option to self-collect their own sample. If you would like to collect your own sample, speak to your healthcare provider. More information on self-collection for the Cervical Screening Test is available from the Department of Health and Aged Care.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is HPV treated?

There is no treatment for HPV. The body usually gets rid of the virus by itself over time, which can take about a year. You will probably need to be re-tested to see if the virus has gone.

If you develop genital warts, your doctor may 'freeze' them off (cryotherapy) or suggest an ointment or cream. Sometimes genital warts need to be removed in hospital.

Cervical and other cancers need to be treated by specialists. Your doctor will advise you on the treatments you need.

Can HPV be prevented?

Using condoms offers some protection, but you can still catch HPV because condoms do not cover the whole genital area.

The best way to protect yourself and others against HPV is to be vaccinated. In women, the vaccine protects against 9 types of HPV that cause cervical cancer it does not protect against all types of HPV. It also helps protect against genital warts and some types of vaginal, vulval and anal cancers.

In men, HPV vaccination helps protect against genital warts and some anal, penile and throat cancers.

The HPV vaccine is recommended for:

  • younger people aged 9 to 25 years
  • people who have weakened immune systems
  • men who have sex with men

The best time to be immunised is before you are sexually active. Boys and girls aged 12 to 13 receive the free HPV vaccine at school on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. It is also available for free to anyone under 26 if they were not vaccinated at school.

You can still be vaccinated if you have been infected with a type of HPV in the past.

Women who have received the HPV vaccine should still have regular cervical screening tests, since the vaccine does not cover all types of HPV. Women aged 25 to 70 need to be screened every 5 years, or 2 years after their last Pap smear.

Who should not get the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine is not suitable for people with certain bleeding disorders or a yeast allergy, or for pregnant women (although research shows there will be no significant effect on you or your baby if you have the vaccine and later find out you are pregnant). Ask your doctor if you're not sure whether you should be vaccinated against HPV.

HPV vaccine

Vaccination is your best protection against HPV. This table explains how the vaccine is given, who should get it, and whether it is on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Some diseases can be prevented with different vaccines, so talk to your doctor about which one is appropriate for you.

What age is it recommended? 9 to 25 years.
How many doses are required?

One dose.

3 doses if there are problems with your immune system.

How is it administered? Injection.
Is it free?

Free for children aged approximately 12 to 13 years (at school).

A free catch-up program is available for under-26 year olds if they missed the vaccine program at school.

For everyone else, there is a cost for this vaccine.

Find out more on the Department of Health website and the National Immunisation Program Schedule, and ask your doctor if you are eligible for additional free vaccines based on your situation or location.

Common side effects The vaccine is very safe. Common side effects include pain, redness and swelling where the needle went in, headache, tiredness, body aches and fever.

Resources and support

You can find out more about HPV, immunisation and cervical screening on these websites:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

HPV vaccination | NCIRS

Read about HPV vaccination and vaccine safety

Read more on National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) website

HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) - Sexual Health Victoria

Sexual Health Victoria (formally Family Planning Victoria) focuses on reproductive and sexual health care, education and advocacy. Our vision is to improve ever

Read more on Sexual Health Victoria website

The HPV vaccine will help protect you | Cancer Council

Since the HPV vaccination program was introduced in 2007, cervical abnormalities among women younger than 25 have been dropping. Find out more here

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

HPV - Immunisation Coalition

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) can affect both men and women and in some cases lead to cancer. A free HPV vaccine is available through school vaccination programs.

Read more on Immunisation Coalition website

HPV vaccination | Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a viral infection transmitted sexually. The HPV vaccine can reduce your risk of HPV, genital warts and HPV-related cancers.

Read more on Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation website

HPV vaccine education | Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation

HPV & Me Awareness for Schools is an online education program for high-school students on the importance of vaccination for HPV and cervical cancer prevention.

Read more on Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation website

Cervical Cancer Screening & HPV Vaccine - Cancer Council Victoria

The Cervical Screening Test is the best protection against cervical cancer. Find out who needs to do it and how to book a test.

Read more on Cancer Council Victoria website

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination | Family Planning NSW

What is human papillomavirus (HPV)? HPV is a virus that can cause genital warts and some types of cancer including cervical cancer (cancer of the neck of the uterus). There are more than 100 types of HPV - about 40 of them can affect the genitals which includes the penis, vulva, vagina and cervix and anus. In most cases, HPV infections are cleared naturally by the body within

Read more on Family Planning Australia website

Cervical cancer screening | Cancer Council

Read about the cervical screening program designed to work together with the HPV vaccination program, to help reduce the incidence of cervical cancer

Read more on Cancer Council Australia website

HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Information about HPV vaccines, who it is recommended for and how and where to get vaccinated. If you're eligible, you can get the HPV vaccine for free under the National Immunisation Program.

Read more on Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.