I was talking to a friend about the routine vaccinations we got in school (riveting convo hey), and turns out she never got her 3rd dose of the HPV vaccine! THIRD dose, you ask? HP-what, you ask? Why am I reading a whole page on HPV, you ask? While the third question is a fair point and in all honesty, this is some bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, I’d say that if you’re aged between 12-25 and have no (or just some) idea what I’m talking about I think this would be a handy read!
So, what is HPV?
HPV is Human Papillomavirus, a common virus that can infect people of all sexes. So common, that approximately 80% of the population will be infected by at least one genital type of HPV in their lifetime! Any sexual activity that involves skin-to-skin contact between genitals or the anus can transmit this virus, so it’s super important to consider this as part of being sexually healthy!
EIGHTY percent?? So that means I may have the virus?
While it’s quite common, the good news is that in most people the virus is harmless and doesn’t cause any problems. Unfortunately, sometimes it can cause diseases such as genital warts, and in more serious cases, it can lead to cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus. This isn’t a quick process, and it may take many years from the time of infection to developing a serious problem.
So, how do I know if it will cause me problems, and how bad can they be?
There are a lot of different genital sub-types of HPV virus (~40), and they are classified under high-risk and low-risk. As you probs guessed, high-risk types are more likely to cause the cancers, whereas low-risk types can cause genital warts. One person can have more than one sub-type of HPV virus, and the aim is to try and prevent these problems before they become serious.
Great. Is there anything I can I do?
Practice Safe Sex: Using protection is a great way to reduce the likelihood of transmitting any STI, and HPV is no different in that regard. However, I’ll reiterate that unlike other STIs (such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV), for many people HPV causes no issues to their health. Nonetheless, if you’re engaging in sexual activity, especially if you’re having sex with a new partner or multiple partners, it’s smart to use protection.
Get vaccinated: Good news! There’s an awesome vaccination against HPV that can prevent many of the cancers mentioned, as well as problems like genital warts! This vaccine, known as the Gardasil 9, is part of the National Immunisation Program, and in WA it’s usually given at school in Year 8. However, if you feel like you’ve missed out, or are unsure, you can still get vaccinated by visiting a GP or the doctor at SHQ and getting a catch-up vaccination.
If you’re under 14, you’ll get a 2-dose vaccine, and the doses need to be spaced 6-12 months apart. If you’re 15 years and above, you need a 3-dose vaccine, and all three doses need to be 6-12 months apart. This is a bit confusing, but a doctor should be able to tell you more information regarding your vaccination status.
Get screened: While the vaccine is good at protecting against many sub-types, it doesn’t cover all of them. Hence, it is important to get the cervical screening test for cervical cancer, which is a test you need to get done once every 5 years once you turn 25.
How much does the vaccine cost?
Till the age of 20 the vaccine is free of charge to everyone who has Medicare, and even after that it’s free in some circumstances, so it’s worth talking to a health professional if you’re unsure about being vaccinated.
Anything else I can do?
It’s important to be aware of HPV, how you can get it and the vaccination (and stay up to date with all your vaccinations). A lot of young people are super healthy and take great care of themselves so have never been to a GP, and may have never gotten this information. If that’s the case, our advice would be to talk to a doctor at your local medical centre, or one of the friendly doctors at SHQ or Headspace for further information and advice! If you have any more questions, check out these super cool links, or send us a message!