HPV is a Highly Contagious Virus
The HPV virus affects both males and females. Research shows that 7 out of every 10 individuals will be infected with HPV at least once in their lifetime. People who have HPV may not have any signs or symptoms, so they can pass it on without even knowing it. The risk of HPV infection is highest among people aged 15 to 24 years of age. These factors make HPV highly contagious, and the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Canada, and the world.
It Doesn’t Take Much to Get or Pass on HPV
HPV is spread through skin to skin contact - not just sexual intercourse. For example, through any kind of intimacy such as touching or kissing the genital area of someone infected. Condoms should always be used, but may not always protect against HPV. Since condoms don’t cover all areas of the skin that may be infected, the HPV virus can still spread from person to person. A single relationship does not remove the risk of infection, and males and females who have been in contact with HPV before may unknowingly bring HPV into a relationship.
HPV Can Lead to Certain Types of Cancer
There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Some types of HPV are higher risk and can cause abnormal cell changes, genital warts and some types of cancer. HPV infection is associated with about:
- 100% of cervical cancers
- 80-90% of anal cancers
- 40% of vaginal and vulvar cancers
- 40-50% of penile cancers
- 25-35% of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers
Each year in Ontario, HPV can be attributed to 254 deaths, 1,090 new cases of cancer and 14,666 new cases of genital warts.
The HPV Vaccine
There is a vaccine to help prevent HPV. The HPV vaccine provides protection against the four types of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts and 70% of cervical cancers. After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in Canadian women aged 20 to 44. The vaccine also helps prevent other types of cancer: mouth, neck, anal, and penile. The costy of the vaccine is approximately $500. Starting September 2016, the vaccine will be offered free to all Grade 7 boys and girls and for Grade 8 girls (2016-2017 school year only). Those eligible will remain eligible until the end of high school.
Is it Safe?
Yes. The HPV vaccine is safe. The vaccine is licensed in over 160 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, US, UK, and most European and Scandinavian countries. More than 200 million doses of the four strain HPV vaccine have been given in worldwide. The vaccine has been shown to be as safe as other vaccines given at the same age. Studies show no serious side effects. A sore arm, swelling and redness may occur at the place where the needle was given. This is usually mild and goes away in one or two days. Fever, nausea, dizziness and headache can also occur. These are also mild and go away on their own. Allergic reactions are very rare. They include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or mouth, fever (greater than 40 degrees Celsius), hives or rash. If these symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately. Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to gain protection against serious diseases. Choosing not to get vaccinated increases the risk of disease.
The vaccine should not be given to people who have had a bad reaction to a vaccine, a severe allergy to a vaccine ingredient (e.g. yeast), or women who are pregnant. If you are taking medications or have a disease that lowers your immune system or increases bleeding, or have any serious allergies, talk to your doctor or public health nurse.
Why Should I Get the Vaccine Now and Not Later…….
The HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer and genital warts. In fact, 75% of Canadians become infected at some time during their lifetime with HPV, and so, it is likely that you will be exposed to HPV. The vaccine works best when given to boys and girls and teens when they are younger, before they become exposed to HPV. The vaccine can only prevent HPV infections. The vaccine can not cure or treat HPV infections or their complications.
At each stage of your life there are recommended vaccines that help prevent serious diseases. HPV vaccine is one of those routine immunizations. Getting the HPV vaccine is an important decision which can help keep you safe and healthy.