What's HPV and why the controversy?

What's HPV and why the controversy?

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a virus that can infect many parts of the body. There are more than 100 different sub-types of HPV, grouped into high-risk types (which may cause cancer) and low risk types (non-cancer causing).

Are men and women at equal risk of HPV?

Yes.

How is HPV transmitted?

It can be transmitted through genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity, by sharing contaminated sex toys and, very rarely, during delivery from the infected mother to the baby. HPV can also be passed on through oral sex.

HPV cannot be passed by sitting on toilet seats or touching door knobs.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

Most HPV infections occur without signs or symptoms. Sometimes, genital warts or warts in other parts of the body may appear and are a sign of HPV infection.

Who is at risk of HPV?

The greater the number of sexual partners, the higher is your risk of HPV infection.

While using condoms can help reduce the risk of HPV infection, condoms do not cover all the genital skin and does not guarantee 100 per cent protection.

Can HPV cause cancer?

There are 13 to 15 strains of HPV that cause cancer, of which types 16 and 18 are most significant as they are responsible for 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

HPV could also lead to other forms of cancer including penile and rectal cancers.

Can HPV be treated?

The virus itself cannot be treated. Most HPV infection (90 per cent of cases) go away on their own without any treatment.

Warts as a symptom of HPV, however, can be treated.

What kind of vaccines are available for HPVs?

Two vaccines, Gardasil® and Cervarix®, are currently approved for use in Singapore.

The two vaccines are approved for use in females aged 9 to 26 years old.

Males in Singapore falling within the same age range can be given Gardasil if their doctors recommend it.

Controversy surrounding HPV Vaccine

Controversy over whether or not to vaccinate pre-adolescent girls against HPV has been raging. Last month Texas governor Rick Perry was criticised in a Republican presidential debate for issuing an executive order requiring sixth-grade girls (12-year-olds) to be vaccinated against HPV.

When Mr Perry issued his executive order in 2007, he made Texas the first state to require vaccinations, although parents could opt out.

His order was seen by critics as an overreach of state power in a decision properly left to parents, reported The New York Times.

The vaccine, critics have claimed, could have dangerous side effects.

Last year, a similar debate took place here.

In May last year, Member of Parliament Halimah Yacob called for the vaccine to be compulsory for girls aged 13, following measures in other developed countries.

The Ministry of Health eventually decided against this. Instead, the vaccine remains a recommended form of prevention against cervical cancer.

Dr Tan Hiok Hee, head of the Department of Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Clinic was consulted in putting together this fact sheet.

The information was also adapted from HPB's website on HPV and HPV vaccination at www.hpb.gov.sg/healthscreening/article.aspx?id=8768.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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