Ok, let’s talk HPV.
No it’s not the latest cable channel on your television. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection. HPV is also known as human papilloma virus. You can acquire this virus by genital sex, anal sex, oral sex or by simple genital to genital contact.
In a world where medical research has exploded and we are aware of the millions of viruses, infections and dangers that surround us, it’s easy to become apathetic. Every day, new findings break out in the news, causing us to worry about our health and the health of those we love. Although we may feel like we want to shut down and hide in our homes, that isn’t reality, nor a good plan. We need to go out into the world and experience our lives to their fullest potential. Part of that experience may include a vibrant sex life which is desirable and healthy. To support this, we must protect ourselves and others against infections that will surely diminish our quality of life.
While it is true that 90% of HPV infections clear themselves within 2 years, some will persist without symptoms and can cause several serious health problems. Some of these conditions include:
- genital warts,
- warts in the throat,
- cervical cancer,
- as well as cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis and anus.
In Canadian women aged 20-44, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer, after breast cancer.
Unfortunately, approximately 400 Canadian women die every year from cervical cancer.
How can we improve these numbers?
How can we gain a little control? Two vaccines have been created to deal with this problem, Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines protect against two HPV types (type 16 and 18) that cause the above mentioned cancers. Gardasil also protects against HPV-6 and HPV-11 that cause 90% of genital warts. Canadian experts are recommending that sexually active people and those with who’ve already had an abnormal pap smear, be vaccinated as early as possible. It is best for boys and girls to receive the vaccine before they become sexually active. It is for this reason that the Quebec government has decided to target girls between the ages of 9-17 years. It is offered in schools during the 4th grade. Although the recommendation is for boys and girls, currently only girls costs are being covered by the government as well as for women between the ages of 18-26 years who have a weakened immune system. It is highly recommended that boys still choose to receive the vaccine in order to protect themselves and future partners.
Just some words of caution.
The HPV vaccine does not protect against all forms of cancer causing HPV infections and therefore does not eliminate the need for regular pap tests. Also, watch out for that false sense of security that may come from getting the vaccine. It does not eliminate the need for protected sex or prudence about one’s choice and frequency of sexual partners. Barrier methods of protection (ie. condoms) are still necessary to prevent HIV/AIDS and other types of infection.
I realize it’s not the easiest topic to discuss with anyone especially with kids. The details do not need to be addressed at this time. Just know that you are helping them with the tools they need to protect themselves. Like all dreaded vaccines that kids fear when going to the doctor’s office…remind them, they’ll thank you one day. This is an important topic. One you should bring up at your next doctor’s appointment.
R. Shaffer, RN