The human papillomavirus (HPV) contributes to the development of condyloma and of certain cancers. Protecting against the virus means guarding against these diseases.
A seemingly innocuous virus
Most people infected with HPV do not experience any particular symptoms. In most cases, the infection resolves itself within less than two years, often without treatment. However, infection persists in roughly 10% to 20% of cases. In such situations, there is an increased risk of developing certain diseases, such as cervical, vulvar, vaginal, anal and penile cancers, and condyloma.
In fewer instances, persistent HPV infection can also lead to other types of cancer. Many years may pass between transmission of the virus and the onset of precancerous or cancerous cells.
Here are some suggestions to help protect against HPV:
- Use a condom during sexual relations.
The use of condoms does not totally eliminate the risk of contracting the virus, as they do not necessarily cover every area that has skin to skin contact. However, using them can reduce the risk of contracting HPV.
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
The risk of contracting HPV increases with the number of sexual partners.
- Consider getting vaccinated against HPV. It is by far the most effective way to avoid contracting the infection and suffering the consequences.
The vaccine against HPV
Two vaccines are commercially available in Canada: one that protects against type 16 and 18 strains only, and the other against all nine types of HPV that most often threaten health (6, 11, 16,18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58). This reduces the risk of developing diseases such as genital warts, as well as cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, and throat cancers. The HPV vaccine is included in the vaccination schedule of the Québec Immunization Program. It is offered free of charge to all children and teenagers, who receive a first dose in the fourth year of elementary school, followed by a second dose in the third year of high school. In the adult population, certain individuals are also eligible to receive the vaccine free of charge, given their higher level of risk of developing an HPV-related disease (e.g., people with weakened immune systems).
HPV vaccination is included in the vaccination schedule of the Québec Immunization Program
Several recognized public health authorities, such as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), have endorsed the use of the vaccine in the above-mentioned populations. If you are not part of this group, check with your doctor or pharmacist whether you are a candidate for the vaccine. If so, you may be able to get it at your pharmacy. Ask a member of our pharmacy team about this service.
It should be noted that the vaccines do not treat HPV infections or the illnesses they cause, but rather prevent them. They do not protect against diseases that are not caused by HPV, nor do they protect against the diseases caused by the types of HPV that are not specifically targeted by the vaccine. It is important that those eligible for the vaccine adhere strictly to the dosing schedule and receive the full series of scheduled injections.
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for additional information on the HPV vaccine, and the measures to take to prevent the infection and the associated medical consequences. The decision whether or not to get the vaccine is an important one. Be sure to make an informed decision!