You may not be familiar with human papillomavirus (HPV), but it’s one of the most common STIs in Australia and is what causes genital warts. Four out of five people have at least one type of HPV at some time in their lives; and while it usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, it can also cause serious illness, including anal cancer.
Find out below everything you need to know about HPV and how to be vaccinated against it.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a common STI that causes:
- Almost all cases of genital warts
- 90% of anal cancers
- 35% of penile cancers
- 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils)
HPV is usually symptomless and clears up by itself, but certain strains of it – particularly HPV 16 and HPV 18 – are more dangerous and cause 80% of anal cancers worldwide. Condoms offer some, but not total, protection from HPV, so it’s worth considering getting vaccinated against the virus.
How does HPV affect gay men?
HPV causes 90% of anal cancers and men who have sex with men are 20 times more likely than heterosexual men to develop anal cancer, with HIV positive men who have sex with men even more likely at up to 100 times more than the general population.
“Condoms offer some, but not total, protection from HPV, so it’s worth considering getting vaccinated against the virus.”
If you’re sexually active, it’s likely you’ve already been exposed to HPV, however, some studies have shown that men who have already had a HPV exposure can still benefit from being vaccinated against it as they may have only been exposed to some strains of HPV and will thus avoid being exposed to others. In people with evidence of previous infection, the vaccine can also potentially help protect from recurrence or reacquisition of infections leading to warts or other cell changes, including cancer. Further conclusive study in this area is needed though.
There is currently no treatment for HPV, in most cases the body’s immune system will clear HPV naturally over time with no long-lasting effects. A doctor can also offer treatment to reduce the severity of symptoms that may arise during an outbreak. But in some cases, the effects can be more serious.
How you can be vaccinated against HPV
HPV vaccinations are provided for free for girls and boys aged 12-13 as part of the National HPV Vaccination Program. For everyone else, the vaccination costs approximately $450 – $150 per dose, with three doses completing the vaccination over the course of six months. And in some cases, you may be able to claim a portion of this fee from private health insurance if you have it.
The vaccine provides almost 100% protection from HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 (remember, strains 16 and 18 cause 80% of anal cancers worldwide) if all three doses are received at the correct intervals over six months, and if given before you have an infection with these types.
Speak to your GP or an LGBTI-friendly sexual health clinic about potentially getting vaccinated and find more information about HPV and the vaccination at The Drama Downunder, HPV Vaccine and The Bottom Line.
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