How can I protect myself and my children from the human papillomavirus?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is widespread and does not distinguish between people by sex or age. Be aware of the consequences of HPV infection and the importance of vaccination against HPV for cancer prevention.

How can I protect myself and my children from the human papillomavirus?
What steps can I take to safeguard myself and my children from exposure to the human papillomavirus? Photo by Angiola Harry / Unsplash

The human papillomavirus infects the deeper layers of the skin and mucous membranes and causes malignant tumors of various organs and benign lesions of the skin and mucous membranes.

Both men and women can be infected with the human papillomavirus during sexual and domestic contact.

Most human papillomavirus infections resolve on their own without any adverse effects on a person's health, but there are types of human papillomavirus that cause malignant tumors.

One in every 20 tumors worldwide is caused by human papillomavirus infection, and the only way to protect yourself from infection with the most common types of human papillomavirus is to get a vaccine.

The safety of vaccines is constantly monitored by national medicines agencies. They have no information that would call into question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines against human papillomavirus infections.

There is no upper age limit for the human papillomavirus vaccine, so adults can also be vaccinated (at their own expense).

Arrangements for the vaccine can be made with your family doctor. To get the best possible protection against the virus, a full course of vaccination is required.

About Human papillomavirus

HPV is a virus that infects the deeper layers of the skin and mucous membranes. It can cause cancerous tumors in different organs and benign lesions on the skin and mucous membranes.

Anyone can easily become infected with HPV through sexual and household contact. Both men and women can become carriers of CPV without experiencing any change in their health.

As the human immune system is active against HPV, most HPV infections (50%-70%) resolve on their own, i.e., within a period of a few months to a few years, without any negative impact on the person's health and without the person even suspecting that they exist. However, there are types of HPV that cause malignant tumors.

There are more than 100 types of HPV, most of them so-called low-risk types, which cause benign skin and mucous membrane lesions such as warts. High-risk types, on the other hand, can contribute to the development of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer in women, penile cancer in men, anal canal cancer, and mouth and throat cancer in both women and men.

One in 20 tumors worldwide is caused by HPV infection. These are diseases that are preventable today.

How you can protect yourself from HPV

Only a vaccine can fully protect against infection with the most common types of HPV. The body's immune response to natural HPV infection is weak and insufficient and does not always provide protection against reinfection. Also, men make even fewer antibodies than women after a natural infection, so HPV can affect them for the rest of their lives.

In contrast, vaccination produces antibody levels against oncogenic types of HPV that are significantly higher and more persistent than natural infection. Since the first HPV vaccines were registered 20 years ago, their safety and effectiveness have been continuously monitored by medical agencies and national authorities. Human papillomavirus vaccines are safe and work well, and these authorities don't know anything that would make them less so.

HPV vaccines have been recognized as extremely safe by a number of major global organizations. It is not so common or obvious that the term "extremely safe" is used for vaccines.

The HPV vaccine is on the immunization calendar for both sexes in 63 countries worldwide.

The vaccine, which is currently used to vaccinate adolescents, protects against nine types of HPV—types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58—which cause precancerous lesions and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, and anus, as well as genital condyloma or warts. Studies have shown that the vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause about 90% of cervical cancers.

Gender-neutral vaccination

Oncologists know that HPV does not discriminate between the sexes. One of the most common sites of cancer caused by HPV infection, especially in men, is head and neck cancer. Before having a sexual relationship, it's important for both girls and boys to get vaccinated. This will protect them from getting sick early on.

Adolescents have a much better body response to the vaccine, which contributes to a more effective immune response against HPV. The best protection comes from getting vaccinated before age 15, but it's still important to get vaccinated later.

Experts point out that it makes sense for both sexes to be vaccinated before the age of 55, but there is no upper age limit for the vaccine. Therefore, adults can also be vaccinated against HPV, but they must do so at their own expense, as not every country pays for the adult vaccine.

HPV vaccination process and frequently asked questions

The vaccine is arranged by your GP. A full course of vaccination is required to get the best possible protection against the virus. When you go to your GP, it is advisable to ask all the questions you have to get the information you need and to make a decision knowing in advance what the risks of not being vaccinated are.

What is this vaccine and why do I need it?

With the HPV vaccine, the aim is to create protection against oncological diseases. Boys need to get vaccinated because this virus can also cause cancerous diseases in boys.

Does the HPV vaccine affect fertility?

There is a myth that HPV vaccination affects fertility, but there are many studies that have shown that the HPV vaccine is safe and does not affect fertility.

Are there side effects?

HPV vaccination side effects are rare but can include redness, swelling, pain at the injection site, increased temperature, fever, and malaise for up to three days.

Is one HPV vaccination enough or is a booster required?

Two doses of the HPV vaccine are required before the age of 15 years and three doses after the age of 15. After getting all of the shots, you will be immune, so you don't need to get them again.

How does the HPV vaccination process work?

The family doctor informs you when to come for the HPV vaccine dose.