HPV is yet another acronym we’re supposed to know about! But just so we’re clear it’s not more internet-speak (like LOL or ICYMI), it’s actually pretty serious and important you understand.
Okay. So, what is HPV?
ICYMI, (sorry) HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is actually a really common sexually transmitted virus, and up to 80% of us will be infected with at least one genital type of HPV at some time in our lives (Source[AP1] ). There are over 100 types of HPV, and about 40 of those can affect the genital area (Source[AP2] ). For most people, there are no symptoms and the virus is cleared within two years by the body’s own immune system. However, HPV can lead to genital warts as well as some serious diseases such as the development of cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva and anus. It affects both males and females, and it’s sexually transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact – meaning you don’t actually have to have intercourse to transmit it (Source[AP3] ). There is no treatment for the HPV virus, as most people’s immune system will clear the virus naturally. However, changes to the cells of the cervix caused by ongoing HPV infection can be treated if necessary to prevent the development of precancerous cells or cervical cancer, and there is also treatment available for genital warts (Source[AP4] )
Give us the numbers.
- almost all cases of cervical cancer
- almost all cases of genital warts
- 90% of anal cancers
- 65% of vaginal cancers
- 50% of vulvar cancers
Okay…So why do parents of adolescent school kids need to know about HPV?
Well, basically, so you can tell your kids about it, before your children become sexually active. Talking about how sexually transmitted diseases are contracted, spread and can be prevented is an important part of any discussion about sexual health, says Dr Deborah Bateson, the Medical Director at Family Planning NSW. ‘We know that age-appropriate conversations about these topics are essential to ensure that, when your young person does become sexually active, they have optimum sexual health. Parents can find it challenging to have these conversations, and to think of their children becoming sexually active at all, but they’re so important.’ (Check out this website [AP6] for info on how to talk to your kids)
Furthermore, research tells us that, even in the age of the internet, a lot of kids in Australia still rely on their parents for advice about sexual health. In the most recent national survey with high school age students (aged Year 10-12), 59.8% of students said their mother was the most trusted source of sexual health information, second only to GPs at 88.6%, and while these kids surveyed were older, it just reaffirms the important role we play for our kids (Source[AP7] ). It’s about
So, how can HPV be prevented?
HPV infection and HPV-related diseases and cancers can be prevented through education, safe sex, cervical screening, and vaccination. While safe sex with condoms can’t completely prevent transmission of HPV (as it’s transmitted through genital skin contact and not just sexual intercourse), it can still help to prevent it. It’s also important for young people to be educated about what’s normal and not normal to help prevent the spread of infections or viruses like HPV, Dr Bateson suggests. ‘For example, teenage girls need to know that bleeding after intercourse could indicate a problem, and they need to see their doctor about it.’
Another way to help prevent the spread of disease is vaccination, and the Australian Government recognises the importance of timely and complete vaccination Dr Bateson points out, with human papillomavirus targeted alongside diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis as part of the school-based vaccination program, for which parents need to provide consent – so make sure you look out for those consent forms from your school!
So, what about pap smears? They don’t call them that, anymore! And, they’re not every two years anymore, either. From the age of 25, females still need to get cervical screening tests every five years (if their results are normal), as part of the National Cervical Screening Program. Women who’ve been vaccinated still need to get these tests, because, even though the vaccine helps protect against the most common high-risk HPV types that cause cervical cancer, it doesn’t cover all the types of HPV. The old type of Pap smear or smear test used to test for cell changes in the cervix, but the new Cervical Screening Test (CST) is able to test for HPV infection, including the strains that are most likely to lead to cervical cancer, before changes have even occurred – meaning it is more accurate (Source[AP8] ). Early detection means early identification of HPV or related illnesses, so treatment can begin if necessary to prevent the development of cancer.
Ultimately, Dr Bateson says, it would be great if young people saw sexual health as just a natural part of self-care. Then, going to the local sexual health clinic could be as normal and routine as going to the gym! Here’s hoping…
Want to know more?
For more information about HPV and government funded treatment and prevention, talk to your doctor. You can also visit these websites for further information:
Sponsored by Seqirus (Australia) Pty Ltd, ABN 66 120 398 067, 63 Poplar Road, Parkville VIC 3052. SeqirusTM is a registered trademark of Seqirus UK Limited or its affiliates. Prepared: November 2019. SEQ/GAR9/1019/0066[AP9]