HPV, the sexually transmitted cancer-causing virus

HPV, the sexually transmitted cancer-causing virus

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus which can potentially result in cervical cancer. It is vital to note, HPV doesn’t potentially just cause cervical cancer. It can also result in vaginal warts and contribute to penile, anal, vaginal and throat cancer.

With this showcasing the seriousness of HPV, when looking at the situation, Mediclinic notes the occurrence of cervical cancer is low in populations of women who are regularly screened using pap smears. However, one in 40 South African women will get cervical cancer.

Although sexually transmitted, penetrative sex is not required to contract HPV. The virus can also be spread through skin-to-skin genital contact.

Dr Almero Viljoen, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Mediclinic George, explains that the only way to avoid HPV is never to be sexually active, leaving the HPV vaccine a person’s best line of defence from contracting it. With vaccinations playing an instrumental role in combating HPV, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) explains that in 2014, South Africa introduced a school-based vaccination with Cervarix® against HPV in public schools.

According to the NICD, the vaccination is given in two doses, usually six-months apart during the academic calendar. As the virus is sexually transmitted, it is essential to ensure one receives the vaccine before becoming sexually active.

This is why, as the NICD highlights, the school-based HPV vaccination program currently targets girls aged 9 or older in grade 4.

Currently, there are two forms of vaccines available. These vaccines are as follows:

  • The first vaccine covers the most dangerous HPV strains 16 and 18.
  • The second not only covers HPV strains 16 and 18, but an additional two other strains, which are types 6 and 11, these are the strains that cause genital warts.

It must be highlighted; these vaccinations do not offer any form of protection against HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia. Furthermore, since there are forms of cervical cancers that are not prevented by the vaccine, women need to continue getting screened for cervical cancer and practice safe sex.

What do you need to know about the HPV:

  • The HPV Strains 16 and 18 cause over 70% of cases of cervical cancer cases.
  • When a healthy woman contracts HPV, it can take between 10 to 20 years for cancer to develop.
  • The five most frequent cancer-causing HPV types are 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45.
  • Genital warts caused by HPV can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medication. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or even possibly grow in size or number.

It is imperative to speak with your local healthcare provider to discuss HPV, to assist you in leading a healthy life. Moreover, ensure your child receives their HPV vaccination as soon as possible to avoid health-related issues such as cervical cancer.


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