In this blog post, I wanted to share some facts about HPV.
You may be aware that from this year when you go have a smear they will be checking for HPV. If HPV is present, then they’ll look for abnormal cells. You may have already had a smear test that checked for HPV as this has been rolled out throughout the country.
What is HPV?
HPV or Human Papilloma Virus is a common virus found on the skin. There are over 200 types of HPV that have been found so far. Only 40 of the HPV viruses have any kind of effect on the genitals.
Both men and women carry HPV.
There are 13 types of HPV which are linked to cervical cancer. They are classed as high-risk HPV.
How common is HPV?
HPV will affect 8 in 10 (80%) of us in our lifetime. Most people’s immune systems can fight off the virus so you will never know you’ve had it.
How do you get HPV?
HPV is spread through sexual contact such as vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It’s rare, but HPV can also be passed on through touching in the genital area or from sharing sex toys. As HPV lives on the skin, even using all the right protection doesn’t mean you’re protected from getting HPV. This is because even using condoms, there is still exposed skin.
Symptoms of HPV
HPV doesn’t present any symptoms. Anyone of us could have had it but as our immune system was able to fight it off, we’re not aware of ever having had it.
How do I prevent HPV?
There are some measures you can take to prevent HPV. They include:
- Stopping smoking
- Practice safer sex
- Have the HPV vaccine if you are eligible
What is the treatment for HPV?
There is no treatment for HPV because you won’t know you’ve got it. Of the 80% of people who have HPV, 9 out of 10 people (90%) will fight off HPV on their own within 2 years.
What is the test for HPV?
The type of test you’ll have depends on where you live. The test used in England and Wales is the smear test. This is known as HPV Primary Screening. As they have made changes to the way the smear tests are processed, they will initially check your sample for high-risk HPV. If they do find high-risk HPV present, then they’ll look for any cell changes.
At the moment there is no HPV test for men.
Does high-risk HPV mean I have cancer?
No, it doesn’t mean you’ll be diagnosed with cervical cancer. You can have high-risk HPV which clears up on its own. It’s only if your immune system can’t fight off the virus and it persists. If that happens there could be changes to the cells in your cervix. If you have high-risk HPV present when you have your smear, they’ll check for abnormal cells.
The HPV Vaccine
There is a vaccine available in the UK which protects against HPV. It is given in two doses; the second dose is usually given 6 – 12 months after the first one. Initially, the HPV vaccine was only offered to girls. From September 2019 the HPV vaccine is being offered to both boys and girls for free (aged 11/12 in Scotland and 12/13 in the other parts of the UK).
If you didn’t get the vaccine in school, you can have the vaccine for free up to age 25 in England, Wales, and Scotland.
If you are older than 25, you may be able to get the HPV vaccine privately from your Doctor or your local Pharmacy. The cost of the vaccine may vary depending on where you have it done but it will be around £150 per dose. Please be aware that there may be an upper age limit so check that out before you go.
Regardless of your age when you have the HPV vaccine, you need to have both injections to be fully protected.
The HPV vaccine will protect you for around 10 years however there is research that indicates it may last longer than that. There are ongoing studies that will be able to tell you how long the protection from the vaccine lasts. The findings of these studies will also indicate whether you’ll need booster injections or not.
Myths surrounding HPV
- It’s rare – as I mentioned above, 80% of us will have HPV without even realising it.
- I should worry about this – no, you shouldn’t. The majority of HPV viruses are nothing to worry about. Even with a big-risk infection, your body may still fight it off.
- Only people who have had a lot of sexual partners will get it – again, not true. You can get HPV the first time you have sex. You can get HPV whether you’ve had one partner or a hundred partners.
- If you’ve had the HPV vaccine, you won’t get HPV – the vaccine protects you against most cancer-causing strains of HPV but not all of them.
I hope this post has shed some light about what HPV is and has reassured you that it isn’t anything to worry about. This is just a brief overview of HPV. If you’d like some more information on HPV, I’d suggest looking at the Jo’s Trust website which is full of easy to understand information. There is also information available on the NHS website.