The ‘often symptomless’ STI many people don’t know they have – who’s most at risk?

Facts about sexually transmitted diseases

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Human papillomavirus (HPV) refers to a group of more than 100 viruses that affect the skin. While these viruses don’t “usually” cause any problems in most people, some types can lead to genital warts or increase the chance of certain cancers, including cervical cancer and some throat, anal and mouth cancers. Condoms offer a level of protection against HPV, but not for the skin around the genitals.

However, it is not always passed on by penetrative sex as it can be caught through:

  • Any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
  • Vaginal, anal, or oral sex
  • Sharing sex toys.

So for better protection there is the HPV vaccination.

Pharmacist Katie Pickles, from chain chemist Well Pharmacy, is encouraging eligible people to get vaccinated if possible.

Speaking to, she said: “As HPV often has no symptoms, many people don’t know if they have it, which is why the safest course of action to prevent HPV is to have the vaccination.

“HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, but a person doesn’t have to have penetrative sex to become infected.

“There is still a level of shame and stigma associated with HPV infections, however, you can get HPV the first time you have sexual contact, and it can remain in the body without symptoms for years.”

According to Well Pharmacy, “most” unvaccinated people “will be infected with some type of HPV at some time in their life”.

And HPV is a major contributing factor when it comes to cervical cancer, with the virus found in 99 percent of cases.

Katie said: “Many will be surprised to learn that most unvaccinated people will be infected with a type of HPV at some time in their life. High risk strains of HPV are associated with cervical and other cancers.

“For women, HPV is usually detected during regular smear tests, which is why it is so vital to stay up to date with your cervical screening.”

She was concerned that those who fall outside of the UK’s vaccination programme, such as those aged 25 and over or international students, may be leaving themselves open to risk.

“Most importantly, if you fall outside of the vaccination programme, it does not mean you can’t protect yourself, even later in life.”

In England, girls and boys aged 12 to 13 years are routinely offered the first HPV vaccination when they are in school Year 8. The second dose is offered six to 24 months after the first dose.

Both doses of the vaccine are required to be properly protected.

If you are eligible and miss the HPV vaccine offered in Year 8 at school, it is available for free on the NHS up until your 25th birthday for girls born after September 1, 1991 and boys born after September 1, 2006.

It can also be administered privately by certain pharmacies.

The HPV vaccine can help protect against:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Some mouth and throat (head and neck) cancers
  • Some cancers of the anal and genital areas.

It also helps protect against genital warts.

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