HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus and is the name of a large group of really common virus’. For the most part they go completely unnoticed but in some people can develop into cold sores, genital warts and in some cases cancer too.
HPV affects the skin primarily and is passed via skin to skin contact and there are over 100 different types of virus and around 40 of those affect the genital area. Many of the types affect the mouth and genital areas and it’s important to note you do not need to have penetrative sex to get it.
You can get HPV by:
- Any skin to skin contact of the genital area
- Vaginal, anal or oral sex
- Sharing sex toys
HPV is super common and most people will get it at some point in their life. It often doesn’t present with any symptoms so you may not even know that you have it, in fact, HPV can hang around for years without causing any issues.
Although you can get HPV from the first time you are sexually active, it’s not an STD as you can even get it if you have never had a sexual partner or have not had a new sexual partner in a long time.
There isn’t any treatment for HPV, but most infections are cleared by your body in about two years. But people who are infected with a high risk HPV virus will not be able to clear it
You cannot completely protect yourself against HPV, but condoms can help to do so. However, the high risk strains mentioned above can and in women can cause cell changes in the cervix that can become cancerous. It can also cause vulval & vaginal cancer.
The HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine helps to protect against high risk strains of the virus. England’s NHS uses the Gardasil vaccination programme and its given to everyone at the age of 12-13 in England. If you miss your vaccine in year 8 at school you can have it for free until your 25th birthday.
Gardasil protects against 4 strains of high risk HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. These strains can cause cervical, anal, vaginal and vulval cancers. In fact, types 16 and 18 are the cause of more than 70% of cervical cancer cases in the UK, and 99.7% of cases of cervical cancer over all are caused by strains of HPV.
Types 6 and 11 are responsible for up to 90% of the UK’s cases of genital warts so Gardasil protects girls against both genital warts and cervical cancer. It’s important to remember that the HPV vaccine does not protect against other STD’s such as chlamydia, gonorrhea or HIV.
Gardasil is a two stage vaccine, the first administered at age 12-13 and the second is given 6-12 months later. The vaccine works best when given before someone is sexually active, however it does still have some effectiveness after someone has become sexually active.