The human papillomavirus (HPV) is extremely common, with 80% of people coming in contact with the virus during their lifetime. But in most cases, the virus may clear on its own within two years, especially in ladies under the age of 30. After the age of 30, you are at higher risk of the virus sticking and progressing to cancer. You can lower and possibly eliminate your chance of developing cancer by simply getting the HPV vaccine. Here’s everything you need to know before you can schedule your appointment with your doctor.
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection. It differs from a sexually transmitted disease (STD) because you can be infected with the virus without showing symptoms. If you start showing symptoms, it becomes an STD.
There are different types of HPV, of which the most common is 9 and 11, causing vaginal or penile warts, and 16 and 18, causing 70% of cervical cancer. It can also cause anal and penile cancer, but this is very rare. There are other, less common high-risk types of HPV that can also cause cancer.
Who Is At Risk?
Basically, anyone that has sex. The virus is spread through direct contact with infected skin and mucous membranes (mouth, tongue, vagina, penis). It is mostly spread through unprotected vaginal and anal sex, but can also spread through oral sex.
What Are The Symptoms?
There is a wide range of symptoms, of which the most common include genital warts, painful intercourse, bleeding with sex, abnormal menstruation, weight loss and discharge.
When Should I Get Tested?
Testing should start from age 25 to 65. For HIV positive women, testing should start immediately. Follow up tests will depend on your results.
What about the vaccine?
Gardasil and Cervarix protect against HPV 16 and 18, which causes more than 70% of cervical cancer. The best time to be vaccinated is between the age of 9 to 13 before you become sexually active. You can still be vaccinated after becoming sexually active if you have tested negative for HPV. Gardasil also protects against vaginal warts and costs about R1100 a dose. You will need three doses within 6 months.
HPV vaccination was implemented in government schools for free from 2014 for all girls in grade 4 above the age of 9. Most of us have missed this boat, so it’s a good idea to talk to our doctor about getting vaccinating