The Human Papillomavirus or HPV is a highly contagious infection that can lead to cervical cancers in women. The disease can be treated, and the lesions may disappear, but the infection remains in the body. HPV treatment can vary, from using medications to surgery, but as the infection remains the symptoms may reappear. It has been found the about 70% of cervical cancers are a result of a woman being infected with HPV at some stage during her lifetime, often years earlier.What is HPV?There are many different types of the virus, some which cause common warts found on places like the hands or feet, but there are about 40 different types that cause genital warts. All warts are highly contagious and anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting genital warts. It is these strains of the HPV virus that can lead to precancerous changes in the cervix.HPV VaccineThere is now a vaccine available that can help prevent cervical cancer and conditions caused by HPV. This vaccine is available for women and is given to young girls as part of the immunisation program offered through schools. Girls are offered the vaccine at 12 or 13 years of age, which parents will need to give permission for, and the vaccine is given as three shots generally over a 6 month period.Who is at risk?All women are at risk, this is why it is important to educated and vaccine young women and girls against the risks of HPV. If a young woman is sexually active or plans on being so in the future then she is at risk. It has been shown that nearly one in every two sexually active females has the infection, and even if they have no symptoms they can still be a carrier. A woman may be aware she has contracted the infection because she develops a case of genital warts, or she has an abnormal Pap test or is tested positive for HPV.How is it spread?Genital warts are usually spread by skin to skin contact during intercourse with someone with the virus. Condoms can be used to help protect you against the virus but these are not a fool proof method of control due to the fact that not all of the skin is covered. The only method that is 100% effective is avoiding sexual contact altogether with someone who is infected, although you can't be certain of this method either since many people have the disease but show no symptoms or do not even know it themselves.When is it best to be vaccinated?It is best for girls or young women to be vaccinated before they are sexually active. The vaccine itself is not a live vaccine so the disease cannot be caught from receiving it. Side effects are rare, although mild reactions may include pain, swelling, redness or itchiness around the injection site. Other less common reactions can include fever, dizziness or nausea.