International HPV Awareness Day: Gavin Hawes asks how much you know about HPV
Sunday 4 March is International HPV Awareness Day, a global event to bring together women and men, charities, governmental and health organisations, researchers and other stakeholders to help raise awareness and prevent cancers caused by HPV.
You may already be aware of HPV or you may not have heard of it yet, but it is something which you really should be aware of because you are likely to be affected by it at some point in your life.
To help you understand everything you need to know about HPV, leading campaign group Jabs for the Boys has put together a comprehensive guide on HPV and the HPV vaccination.
1. The human papillomavirus
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes lining the body, for example, in the cervix, anus, mouth and throat.
There are more than 200 different types of HPV and it is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. HPV is commonly passed on through genital contact, usually during vaginal, oral and anal sex. HPV causes cervical, oral, throat, anal and penile cancer, in additional to genital warts.
Peter Baker of Jabs for the Boys says: “Almost every single sexually active person who has not been vaccinated will contract HPV at some time during their life. For most, HPV is normally harmless and goes away without the person even knowing they have been infected. However, for thousands of people every year it leads to head and neck, penile, anal cancer as well as genital warts.
“HPV is estimated to be the cause of 5% of all cancers globally.”
2. The HPV vaccination
Ten years ago, the British government introduced a nationwide vaccination programme, giving school-aged girls aged 12-to-13, the HPV jab. Since then, around 2.5 million girls have been protected of HPV cancers and diseases.
It is estimated that the introduction of the HPV vaccine for girls has cut infections in women by up to 90% in the last decade.
Despite the success of the vaccination programme, boys remain unprotected from HPV. Mr Baker adds: “HPV is as likely to occur in men as it is in women, yet for many, the risks to men seem to be slipping dangerously under the radar.
“The government’s vaccination advisory committee (JCVI) has been deliberating a recommendation regarding HPV vaccination for boys for five years. It’s far too long and every year they delay is putting 400,000 more British boys at risk of HPV.”
A recent poll has revealed that 85% of the general public support the introduction of gender-neutral vaccinations in the UK. There is also overwhelming support from the health profession, with 97% of dentists and 94% of doctors claiming they would pay to get their sons vaccinated from HPV.
Two weeks’ ago, government announced that men who have sex with men would now be able to get a HPV vaccination at a GUM clinic. However, campaigners are unimpressed, saying the vaccination is most effective before a person is sexually active.
3. HPV awareness
New research into the UK’s knowledge of HPV points to a startling lack of awareness about the virus, particularly in relation to British men. Fewer than one in eight (12%) adults identify HPV with diseases that affect men – such as head and neck, anal and penile cancer – and are more than twice as likely to associate the infection with cervical cancer (27%).
Worryingly, the poll also reveals more than one in three (34%) British men believe themselves not to be at risk of HPV.
“It is really important that men and parents of boys are able to recognise their risk and have a place to go where they can access good quality information and advice,” says Mr Baker. “With the government’s advisory committee continuing to delay their recommendation regarding HPV vaccination for boys, there is an even greater urgency for a somewhere boys and their parents can go in order to learn more.”
4. Private vaccination
NHS GP services are very unlikely to be able to provide HPV vaccination for boys and men. If it is available, it would be on a private basis which means that there would be a charge.
HPV vaccination is now provided for boys at two national pharmacy chains; Boots and Superdrug, and also available from a number of private health centres and travel clinics.
Mr Baker adds: “You can visit http://jabsfortheboys.uk which has lots of information about HPV and the vaccine. By learning more about vaccination, men, boys and their parents can put themselves in a better position to make an informed decision whether to get yourself, or your sons, vaccinated privately.”