HPV – What’s It All About?
Immunisations! Injections! Vaccines that prevent you from different illnesses don’t stop when you’re a baby. Vaccinations are really important for young people and adults too, keeping you safe and well. The HPV vaccination is just one of these.
Is this something to do with cancer?
The HPV vaccine protects against cervical cancer. This is the second most common cancer in women under 35 according to Cancer Research UK, with around 8 women diagnosed every day. That’s almost 3,000 a year. They estimate that around 400 of those lives could be saved every year with the HPV vaccination, protecting against cervical cancer for at least 20 years.
What does HPV mean?
The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the name given to a family of viruses. There are over 100 different types of virus in this family. Some of them are low risk and just cause things like warts or verruca’s. Other types though are high risk (40 of these affect the genital area) and can cause more serious illnesses like vaginal cancer, vulval cancer, anal cancer, cancer of the penis and of course cervical cancer. The problem is that often infection with the HPV causes no symptoms, so often people don’t know they’re unwell for a long time.
How do you get the HPV infection?
The HPV infection is VERY common and easily spread by sexual activity. Believe it or not, almost half the population will have the HPV infection at some point in their life. Most of the time our immune systems manages to fight it off so it doesn’t do us any harm, but in some cases the infection can take over the immune system and can result in serious health problems.
But I’m not sexually active, why do I have to have it so young at 13?
It’s true that most girls don’t start having sex until they’re 16. However, it is really important that you are protected, and are kept safe early enough. Your early teenage years are the best time for this. Another way to prevent HPV is to make sure you practice safe sex by using condoms; this will also protect you against lots of other sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). But it’s important to remember that condoms don’t cover all of the genital area, and are often put on after the start of sexual contact. While it is ALWAYS a good idea to use a condom, it cannot guarantee against the spread of HPV.
Should all girls get vaccinated?
This vaccine is a part of the NHS Childhood Vaccination programme, and is therefore offered to all secondary school girls in Wales aged 12/13, usually during year 8. It is a very safe vaccination so there won’t be many girls who can’t have it. But there are some health conditions that may prevent it, such as weakened immune systems or conditions that make them bleed more like Thrombocytopenia. Also, if they have ever had a severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of HPV or any of its ingredients; special precautions will need to be put in place in this instance. If a young person is pregnant, they could still have the vaccine, but more care would be taken.
What if I’m ill or suffering from period pain on the day of the vaccination?
Having something like a cold or period pain is not a reason to postpone the HPV vaccination. If you have a severe illness, with a high temperature, then you should probably postpone. The symptoms of your illness could be confused with any possible side effects of the vaccine and result in a wrong diagnosis if you had to go to the doctor.
What if I’m on medication or had another vaccine recently?
The best thing to do in this instance is to tell the doctor or nurse who is giving you the injection. The majority of medication and vaccines will not cause any problems.
Is it just 1 injection?
Actually, it’s 2. These are given separately within a 6 to 24 month period. The vaccine is injected into the muscle of your upper arm. You have to have both injections to be fully protected. The first one is usually given in October of year 8 and the second 6-24 months later. It depends on the availability of the school nurses.
What if I’m off sick on that day?
Don’t panic. If you miss either of the injections then you just have to make an appointment with your own doctor. You should do this as soon as possible to the date you were meant to have the vaccine at school, and also as young as possible. When you turn 15 then you will have to have 3 injections rather than 3. When you turn 18 you won’t be allowed the vaccination free on the NHS anymore.
If I have the HPV do I have to go for Smear tests when I’m older?
Yes, smear tests will take place every 3-5 years between 25 and 64 years old. A smear test is when a nurse or doctor checks your cervix to pick up any abnormal cells before they turn into cancer (cervical screening). Early detection and treatment of cervical abnormalities picked up by screening can prevent three-quarters of cervical cancers. The HPV vaccine doesn’t protect against every type of HPV virus, so having a regular smear test is vital to detect potentially cancerous cell changes in the cervix sooner rather than later.
Who decides if I can have this vaccination?
It’s your decision. Although your parent/carer will have to sign a consent form beforehand, it is you who has the final say. If they don’t want you to have it, but you do, then your decision overrules theirs. If you need more information before making your decision you could speak to an adult that you trust, read the Vaccination Guide Leaflet or speak to your doctor or nurse. It’s important that you make the right decision for you.
If you need to talk to someone about something that’s worrying you, then contact Meic. Our friendly advisors can help.
Meic is an information and advocacy helpline for children and young people aged 0-25 in Wales. We are open 8am to midnight, 7 days a week. You can contact us free on the phone (080880 23456), text message (84001) or online chat.