HPV: Are you protected?


Four out of five women will be infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) at least once in their lifetime, according to Sheridan’s Health Centre, but there are ways to prevent the disease.

The simplest and cheapest method is the use of condoms.

On the other end of the scale are two vaccines to help further prevent contracting the virus. Cervarix helps protect against the cancer-causing virus while Gardasil protects against both the warts and the virus.

“They’re designed to build up your immune system, just like the flu shot is designed to build up your immune system so that if you ever encounter it, your [body] knows to fight it and it’s already strong to fight it off,” said Jane Rolfe, a registered nurse at Sheridan’s Health Centre.

The vaccine is a series of three shots that average about $150 each and is recommended for both men and women, between the ages of nine and 26.

While neither of the vaccines are covered by OHIP, Jenna Pulver, president of Sheridan Student Union, says the college’s health and dental insurance covers 100 per cent of the cost of vaccinations up to $150 per year (September to September). This means Sheridan’s health plan will cover the full cost of the first vaccine. The second shot, which is administered one to two months after the first vaccine and the third shot, which is administered six months after the first vaccine are not covered as they fall within the same year.

 “The virus can lead to genital warts so a lot of the time that is the sign people will see. They’ll suddenly have these new growths on their genitals.”

According to Rolfe, the nurses at Sheridan College have the authority to assess the situation and administer the vaccine, whereas if an individual gets it out in the community, they require a prescription.

Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to the vaccine should not receive the remaining shots, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website. It also advises against pregnant women receiving the vaccine.

HPV is a virus that lives on the mucus membranes in the body including the mouth, the urethra and the vagina.

“It’s often unnoticed because it’s a virus that lives in your body,” said Rolfe. “The virus can lead to genital warts so a lot of the time that is the sign people will see. They’ll suddenly have these new growths on their genitals but that’s only a couple different types of HPV that cause those genital warts. A lot of the time it goes unnoticed unless it leads to the warts or to cancer.”

Pap tests and HPV tests are screening methods to avoid abnormal cells turning into cancer.

“The Pap test, also called a Pap smear, checks for changes in the cells of your cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens into the vagina (birth canal). The Pap test can tell if you have an infection, abnormal (unhealthy) cervical cells, or cervical cancer,” said the Office of Women’s Health website.

An HPV test is similar, but checks for the HPV virus.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website, these tests do not check for early signs of other cancers, for other sexually transmitted diseases or a women’s ability to get pregnant.

The website also suggests that women aged 30 and older should get the HPV test alongside the pap test. For women ages 21 and over who have an abnormal pap test should also consider the HPV test. Most women with unclear or abnormal pap tests do not have cervical cancer but many of these women have the abnormal cells that must be treated so they do not become cancerous in the future.

Currently, there is no FDA-approved HPV test for men.

Treatment methods will vary based on how the virus presents itself.

“If [the virus] presents in the form of warts, the warts are often burned off or treated with medication. Or if it’s cancer, it’s treated like cancer,” said Rolfe. “In most cases it just resolves on its own. They say 80 per cent of women will get it at one point in their life, but it’ll just go away. Only 10 per cent turn into recurring warts on the skin but only a small percentage [20 per cent] will turn into something. The rest of the time it’ll resolve on it’s own.”

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