Human Papilloma virus (HPV) is a common, sexually transmitted virus. When not vaccinated, most people will be infected with HPV at some point in their life time. HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract and is the cause of a range of conditions in both men and women, including precancerous lesions that may progress to cancer and genital warts. Although the majority of HPV infections do not cause symptoms and resolve spontaneously, persistent infection with HPV may result in disease. In women, persistent infection with specific HPV types (most frequently HPV-16 and HPV-18) may lead to precancerous lesions which, if untreated, may progress to cervical cancer. HPV infection is also associated with oropharyngeal and anogenital cancers and other conditions in men and women.

There are more than 100 HPV types, and each type is identified by a number. Some HPV types can cause genital or anal warts but do not cause cancer. Genital warts are visible, soft, moist, and skin-colored bumps. Genital warts caused by the HPV virus can disappear on their own or may require treatment.

Three highly effective and safe vaccines are licensed for preventing infection against high risk HPV types: bivalent, quadrivalent and nonavalent. They are also highly efficacious in preventing precancerous cervical lesions. HPV types 16 and 18 are together responsible for approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases globally. The quadrivalent and nonavalent vaccines are also highly efficacious in preventing genital and anal warts. WHO recommends that all countries proceed with nationwide introduction of HPV vaccination.

Key facts

  • Virtually all cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to genital infection with HPV
  • HPV infection causes 72.000 cases of cervical cancer and 34.000 cervical cancer deaths in the Americas each year (2018 data)
  • As of 2017, the WHO estimates that the Regional prevalence of HPV in women is 16.1%
  • If current trends continue, cervical cancer is projected to increase in Latin America and the Caribbean by 27% in the number of new cases and by 34% in number of deaths, by 2030
  • As of 2017, 35 countries and territories in the Americas had introduced HPV vaccination for girls aged 9 to 14 in their national immunization programs
  • Despite the high prevalence of HPV-related anal lesions in person who live with HIV, these populations are not yet prioritized in HPV immunization programs, and most countries have only a limited capacity for screening, diagnosing, and treating HPV-related lesions

PAHO/WHO response

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