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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Introduction

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that can be found throughout the world. Over 100 different types of the virus exist and of those, about 20 types are known to cause cervical cancer in women.

HPV can infect other parts of the body in both men and women and cause anal cancers, genital warts and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP).

The Illness

HPV is commonly transmitted by skin-to-skin contact (usually during sexual contact). Genital HPV can also be spread during oral sex and by non-sexual routes such as mother to baby.

Genital HPV infections are common and are usually self-limiting. Persistent genital infection can cause pre cancerous lesions which if left untreated can go on to cause cervical cancer in women.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment available for HPV.

Recommendations for Travellers

Travel itself does not increase the risk of exposure to HPV. The HPV vaccination programme in the UK began in September 2008 and is aimed primarily at girls aged between 12-13 years. The vaccination is intended only for use in girls and young women to prevent diseases caused by HPV.

A vaccination catch up programme for girls aged 14- 18 years commenced in 2009. There are two vaccines available to protect against HPV: Cervarix and Gardasil. Gardasil is currently being used for the UK vaccination programme.

Travellers should be given information about the risks of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections. Condoms may not offer complete protection against HPV.

Further Information

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