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Understanding Vaccines

Canadians Should Be Aware of HPV Prevention Steps for All Ages

family laughing smiling at beach
family laughing smiling at beach

Canadians should be aware of the risk of HPV and the preventative measures that can be taken to avoid this potentially-deadly virus.


What is human papillomavirus (HPV) and why should all Canadians be aware of the virus?

Over 75 percent of Canadians will have one form or another of HPV in their lifetime. People come into contact with this virus through any skin-to-skin sexual contact below the waistline with fingers, mouth, or other body parts, even without penetration. Condoms give good protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unwanted pregnancies, and HPV in general, but they don’t fully protect people from this virus because there’s still direct skin-to-skin contact.


What risks are associated with HPV?

Unfortunately, there are typically no signs or symptoms of this virus for either partner, regardless of sex or gender. HPV could appear as genital warts or could lead to cancers of the tonsils, vocal cords, tongue, throat, anus, cervix, vulva, vagina, and penis. Genital warts are small, raised lumps that can grow in clumps or alone. They’re usually painless but may cause itching, burning, or slight bleeding. They can be found anywhere from the waist down to the knees, on the front and back of a person’s body, and in the mouth. HPV can also stay asleep in a person’s body for up to 40 years and later surface as a cancer. This means that what you’re doing now, or have done in the past, could affect you years or decades later.


What can families do to best protect themselves from HPV?

The good news is that there are preventative methods. HPV vaccination is the best protection from this virus. It has benefits for people of all ages. The vaccine protects people from being affected by different types of the virus with which they haven’t already come into contact. If a person has cleared an HPV-related infection (genital warts or an HPV-related pre-cancer), then the vaccine will help protect against reinfection. Furthermore, if you have a cervix, getting routine cervical screening, whether vaccinated or not, can help detect cervical cancer earlier.


How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted school-based vaccination programs for diseases such as HPV?

Considering Canada’s current annual mortality rates for HPV-related cancers, interruption of school-based HPV vaccination programs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic may have devastating consequences to these children’s health in the coming decades. In many provinces, at least two cohorts of children eligible for the HPV vaccine haven’t received full protection against HPV strains that may cause cancer due to these interruptions. Experts are now trying to assess the impact of this, recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably altered public perception of the threat posed by infectious diseases, such as HPV.

This article was made possible with support from a research-based pharmaceutical company.

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