Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, a virus that was much talked about in years past but has fallen off the radar of immediate concern, is in the spotlight again. Previously thought to mainly affect women, HPV related cancers in men are on the rise. Health Canada says that as many as 75 per cent of sexually active people in Canada, if not immunized, will contract the virus. The infection is sexually transmitted and has often been linked to genital warts and is considered a primary cause of cervical cancer in women, and anal and penile cancers in men.
Middle school girls began receiving immunizations for the virus over a decade ago with positive results, but beginning this year, the HPV vaccine, commonly known as Gardasil, is available free of charge to both male and female students in Grade 7 in Ontario. In previous years, the shot was offered only to female students and began in grade 8, and students entering grade 8 this year will also receive the immunization.
There are a number of reasons why someone would not have got the shot in middle school. The HPV vaccine is not mandatory for attendance like the shot for measles, mumps, and rubella – though parents can even choose to opt their children out for that one as well. Male students also would not have received the shot at school before the 2016-17 school year.
This year the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are targeting women outside of high school in a campaign to encourage immunization. The campaign, primarily shown in Cineplex movie theatres before film screenings, encourages women to ask their doctor about the immunization for it’s cancer prevention. The society says the shot can protect women from 70 per cent of cervical cancers. The Canadian Cancer Society says that approximately 1500 women in Canada will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, and an estimated 400 of them will die from it. Statistically, 73 per cent of women diagnosed will survive five years. Anal cancer, primarily linked to HPV, has far more grim statistics, with only 62 per cent of those diagnosed making it to the five year mark.
While Health Canada says many people infected with HPV will never know it and the virus could go away on it’s own, they say that the immunization has proven perfectly safe in the ten years since it was introduced, and you cannot contract the virus from the shot. Health Canada says on their website that the “HPV vaccine is approved for use in over 100 countries. Over 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide. Extensive, ongoing monitoring done in Canada and globally continues to show that the HPV vaccine is very safe.”
What should you do if you did not receive the vaccination in middle school? Health Canada says it’s not too late to protect yourself and your potential sexual partners from infection. Anyone who is not specifically at risk from the vaccine because of an allergy can get it from their doctor. Brock students can get the shot at Health Services, although the Gardasil vaccine is not covered under the university’s student health plan. While your doctor visit is covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Program, the immunization is not. Students who want to get it will have to pay for it themselves, or through private insurance, though not all insurance programs will cover it.