Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. Seventy-five per cent of all sexually active people, both male and female, will contract HPV at least once in their lifetime. Most of those infections will go unnoticed, as a healthy immune system will clear itself of the virus. Some HPV infections, however, will lead to certain types of male and female cancers. In particular, 70 per cent of all cervical cancers can be traced back to HPV infection.
When was it approved?
In 2006, Health Canada approved a vaccine (Gardasil) that protects against four types of HPV.
Does it contain a live virus?
The immunization does not contain a live virus, and side effects have proven to be minor in preliminary testing. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that in order for the vaccine to be effective, it should be given to girls between the ages of 9 to 26 who have not yet become sexually active.
HPV, also called “The Silent Infection”
HPV can be transferred on parts of the body that are not protected by a condom, and its symptoms are often hidden until they are detected by an HPV test or an abnormal Pap smear. In some cases, the development of genital warts (or “papillomas”) will be an indication that HPV is present and requiring treatment.
Health Canada is conducting research into the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine and its success in guarding against the types of HPV that lead to cervical cancer. Women have been well-informed on the importance of receiving regular Pap tests every year once they become sexually active, but up until recently, we have been unable to control the virus that leads to abnormal cells on a Pap smear.
How many shots do you get? How much does the HPV vaccine cost in Canada?
The HPV vaccination is to be administered in three doses over six months. It can be a costly ounce of prevention, at a total price of about $475 for the entire series. The shots are available through a visit to your family doctor. Most health insurance providers do not cover this prescription, but new federal budget allowances for immunizations have some provinces looking to the federal government to foot the bill.
There is still controversy over the vaccine
Some health experts suggest that the hype surrounding the HPV vaccination is simply an epidemic of fear created by a big drug company in order to promote their product. With deaths from cervical cancer in Canada at just 400 per year, they say, it's hardly an epidemic. Most women who die of cervical cancer haven't had a routine Pap test in more than five years. Instead of funding free HPV shots, some experts say, the government should be promoting nationwide Pap screening.
Should you or your daughters and loved ones get the vaccine? Contact your health-care practitioner to discuss it. Also, up-to-date information on the HPV vaccine is available on the Health Canada website.
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