I think vaccines are one of the greatest healthcare breakthroughs in modern times and the HPV vaccine has been a real-life changer. HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. There are over 100 strains of the virus. Some cause verrucas and warts, but some, so called “high risk” strains are linked to some cancers including the cervix, anus, vulva, penis, mouth and throat. Vaccinating against these strains is literally lifesaving.
What are the symptoms of HPV infection?
HPV is very common and can be passed on through any kind of sexual contact. It isn’t only through penetrative sex and whilst condoms are very effective at protecting against most sexually transmitted diseases, they don’t offer full protection against HPV, as it can be passed on by skin-to-skin contact.
The initial infection doesn’t cause symptoms and most people will get HPV at some point. Most people will get rid of the virus without the need for treatment, but in some people, HPV lingers causing changes in the cells, which could, over time lead to cancer. We don’t know why this happens in some people and not others, but it seems to be more common in smokers.
How can I get an HPV vaccine?
The NHS routinely offers vaccination against HPV to girls and boys in year 8 (aged 12 and 13). This year, the vaccine offered will change from Gardasil to Gardasil 9, which protects against more strains of HPV so will offer protection against even more cervical cancers and against strains 6 and 11 which cause around 90% of cases of genital warts.
The vaccine is given as two doses, 6 to 24 months apart. It is important to have both doses are this offers the best protection. If you miss a vaccination, speak to your school or GP surgery about getting the vaccine as soon as you can. If you are eligible and miss the vaccination in year 8, you can still get it free on the NHS up until your 25th birthday if you are a girl born after 1st September 1991 or a boy born after 1st September 2006. If you don’t have your first vaccine until after your 15th birthday, you will be offered a third dose.
If I am vaccinated does that mean I don’t need to attend for smear tests?
Studies have shown that HPV vaccination offers protection against HPV for at least 10 years and experts believe it could be much longer. But, it is important that you attend for any smears that you are offered as the vaccination doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that are linked to cervical cancer.