Our understanding of HPV infection is changing dramatically with recent studies. It had been assumed that HPV infections persist forever with the virus becoming latent but never going away. Evidence now suggest that the virus is cleared completely after and average period of 3 or 4 years but that reinfection is common.
- HPV vaccination is almost 100% effective against the viruses in the vaccine
- HPV vaccination reduces the risk of HPV infection in women of any age
- HPV vaccination halves the risk of recurrence after treatment of CIN
- HPV vaccination is very safe
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Should women over 26 be vaccinated?
Women can be vaccinated at any age. HPV vaccination reduces the risk of HPV infection in women of all age groups. A recent study has shown that in women older than 25, HPV vaccination protects against new HPV infection and the development of an abnormal smear test and CIN.
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Is vaccination given after a positive HPV test?
Vaccination can be given after a positive HPV test. We now know that women and men may be repeatedly infected with the same HPV virus type. A natural infection with the virus does not confer immunity to another infection with the same virus, and a couple may pass the virus back and forth between each other. Vaccination prevents reinfection once the virus has been cleared from the body.
What is the role for vaccination after treatment for CIN?
Early studies are suggesting that vaccination at the time of treatment for CIN may reduce the chance of recurrence of the CIN presumably by preventing reinfection by the HPV. Certainly the use of condoms after treatment reduces recurrence rates.
Should my daughter be vaccinated against HPV?
HPV vaccination is offered to girls aged 12 to 13, usually in year 8 at school, as part of a national vaccination programme. Many feel that this is a very young age to vaccinate girls against a sexually transmitted virus, but trials have shown that a better immune response is mounted at this age and very good antibody levels result.
What cancers are related to HPV infection?
HPV is associated with most cancers of the cervix. As well it causes cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum and throat. Many people are infected with HPV but only a small number go on to develop any of these cancers. A number of additional molecular steps are necessary to change HPV infected cells into cancer cells.
Should men be vaccinated?
Vaccinating men protects them from the cancers mentioned previously and also prevents them passing these high risk HPV to their partners. Many countries have now started vaccinating boys as well as girls to reduce the risk of HPV related cancers in the whole population.
How is the vaccine given?
The vaccine is usually injected into the muscle in the upper arm. Three doses are given to complete the course. The first is given initially, the second 4 to 8 weeks later, and the third six months after the first injection. In young girls aged 15 or less, two doses give the same level of protection.
What is the HPV vaccine?
The vaccine is made of a single protein from the outer coat of each of the viruses. These proteins neatly fold in the same way as they do in the viruses, and assemble into virus-like particles. These particles look very much like the viruses, particularly to the immune system and so invoke a strong immune response. However, they do not contain DNA and so cannot replicate or behave in any way like a virus. The vaccines also contain an adjuvant, which is a material that stimulates the immune system to respond.
Where can I get the vaccine?
The vaccine is available on the NHS for young girls in the vaccination programme. Others may be able to access the vaccine through their general practitioners or from a private clinic. We offer vaccination on request.
Are there different vaccines?
There are two vaccines against HPV. They both protect against HPV 16 and HPV 18, the two viruses thought to cause most of the cases of cancer of the cervix and also some other cancers. In addition, Gardasil protects against HPV 6 and 11, which cause most of the cases of genital warts. The other vaccine, Cervarix, is said to have a better adjuvant and does seem to produce higher antibody levels in women who have been immunised.
What are the side effects of vaccination?
The vaccine is usually injected into the muscle in the upper arm. It is a little uncomfortable whilst it is being administered and usually for a few hours after that. Injection site problems such as redness, bruising, itching, swelling, pain or cellulitis are common as are headaches. Some people experience nausea or pain in the arms, hands, legs or feet. An itchy rash is a very rare side effect.
How long does vaccination last?
It is too early to know how long vaccination will give protection for or whether a booster will be needed. However, antibody levels have been well maintained for 6 years after vaccination and will probably last much longer. This will be the subject of further studies as experience with the vaccines increases.