What is HPV?
HPV is a group of viruses passed on through unprotected sex. It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world and is linked to some cancers as well as other conditions such as warts or verrucas.
Most people don’t know they carry HPV, because it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms. While there isn’t a cure, the immune system fights off HPV in most cases. The problem with HPV is that high-risk infections can cause complications, such as cancer, while the virus is in the body.
In 2008, however, a vaccine became available. Since then, it has since been given to girls between 12 and 18 years to protect them against numerous HPV strains before they are at most risk. And it’s soon to be on offer for boys.
Who does HPV affect?
Anyone can catch HPV, both men and women. Although many people believe it’s only linked to cervical cancer, it can, in fact, cause other genital, anal and oropharyngeal cancers.
Because 99.7% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV, schoolgirls across England have been given the vaccine. Most girls receive it when they are 12, because they are much less likely to be sexually active at this age. Testing has found the vaccine to be highly effective and it is now going to be rolled out to teenage boys, too.
Why are boys getting the HPV vaccine?
Research has shown that two types of HPV, 16 and 18, are linked to anal, penile and some head and neck cancers. By giving teenage boys the vaccine before the majority of them are sexually active, it is hoped they will be at a much lower risk of developing these illnesses. It also protects against the strains of HPV that cause 90% of genital warts.
The benefits don’t stop there. Herd immunisation is a method that helps protect non-immunised people by reducing the level of potential threats. With fewer people carrying HPV (thanks to the immunisation), there is also a lower likelihood of people who haven’t had the vaccine catching the virus.
Should men and women get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is given to girls (and soon boys) up to 18, because it’s best to have it before someone is sexually active. Having said that, the vaccine can protect against future infections if someone has already had sex and had the virus in their system. That’s why adults up to the age of 45 can also get the vaccine, but it will usually have to be organised privately.
On the other hand, men who have sex with men can now get the vaccine through the NHS, as long as they’re under the age of 45. It’s because they’re not protected through herd immunisation, with their sexual partners also unvaccinated. They can arrange it through sexual health and HIV clinics, and it’s free of charge, so it’s hugely encouraged.
How can people over 18 get the HPV vaccine?
Even if you’re outside the NHS age window for the HPV vaccine, you can still get the jabs before you turn 45. It’s a course of three injections in the upper arm, and you can arrange it through immunisation clinics, such as Superdrug Health Clinics.
Getting tested for HPV
Currently, all women over the age of 25 (or those with a cervix) are screened for HPV when they attend their smear (or cervical cancer) appointment. However, Superdrug do offer an at home HPV self-test kit, which is sent safely through the post and all results are treated with 100% confidence.
For men, some clinics will offer the HPV test if you are considered particular high risk, such as men who have sex with men.
Find out more about the HPV virus and other health services offered by Superdrug on the website today.