The HPV vaccination process
Posted on 6 March 2019
HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is a viral infection that can cause cervical cancer. Although sexually transmitted, penetrative sex is not required – the virus can also be transmitted through skin-to-skin genital contact.
There are over 100 types of HPV of which many usually clear up on their own.
Low-risk or non-cancer causing types can cause genital warts. High-risk types 16 and 18 can lead to cervical cancer as well as cancers of the mouth, throat, anus and penis.
Fortunately, cervical cancer is preventable with the help of timeous HPV vaccination and Pap tests.
In South Africa, prevention begins with HPV vaccination of girls aged nine to 14 years-old, before they become sexually active. Unfortunately, due to cost reasons, inoculations are not yet available to boys. Sexually active women up to age 26 can also be vaccinated and older women should have regular Pap tests, which can detect HPV and abnormal cells.
There are two vaccines available:
* The first vaccine covers the most dangerous HPV strains 16 and 18.
* The second covers HPV strains 16 and 18 plus two other strains (Types 6 and 11 that cause genital warts.)
Vaccination does not offer protection against HIV or other sexually related diseases such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia. Since some cervical cancers are not prevented by the vaccine it is crucial for women to continue getting screened for cervical cancer and also practice safe sex.
The South African HPV Advisory boards recommend that women should begin having Pap tests when they become sexually active or turn 21. Annual testing should be done until the age of 30 and after that, every three years.
Should the Pap test reveal the presence of the HPV virus a further test can be done to determine whether it is a high or low-risk HPV virus.