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WHAT IS IT?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common STI in Canada. Approximately 75% of Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. The infection often does not have signs or symptoms making it difficult to tell if you or your partner are infected.
There are over 100 types of HPV, and some of these can cause genital warts and cancer. Your body can often clear low-risk HPV on its own, e.g. ones that cause genital warts. However, it is always best to visit a doctor when presenting these symptoms.
There are approximately 15 types of HPV that cause abnormal cells and can lead to cancer. HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva and vagina as well as the penis. It has also been linked to cancer of the anus, mouth and throat.
HOW WOULD I GET HPV?
- It can be spread through oral, vaginal/penile, or anal sex with an infected partner
- Through intimate contact such as genital rubbing
- Sharing sex toys
- HPV can rarely be passed from parent to infant during birth
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
If you are infected with the types of HPV that cause genital warts, you may not develop symptoms. It is also possible that you could carry the virus for many years before developing symptoms. It is often impossible to determine exactly when you got it and who you got it from. The size and number of warts will vary from person to person. You may experience one or several outbreaks over time.
HOW WOULD I KNOW I HAD IT?
- Warts develop on the vulva, cervix, penis, scrotum, anus, or in the urethra. Genital warts typically appear as small, soft, flesh-colored painless growths, with a cauliflower-like appearance.
- Discomfort during intercourse
- Bleeding with intercourse or with shaving
- During pregnancy, warts may increase in size and number and then decrease after delivery
- Often no symptoms
- Bleeding between periods or after intercourse
If you have symptoms in the areas that can be affected by HPV, especially bleeding, itchiness, or pain, please make an appointment to see one of our doctors.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER
- Using condoms or dental dams can help prevent the spread of HPV. Because HPV can live on the skin surrounding the groin area, including the upper thighs, condoms do not offer complete protection against this STI. However, they still offer some protection, so we highly recommend using them!
- Internal condoms can provide additional protection against skin exposure.
- Condoms should also be used on sex toys.
- The spread of genital warts can be increased by shaving the genital area.
- The latest GARDASIL vaccine protects against 9 types of HPV that are linked to 90% of cervical cancer. The vaccine also provides protection from some HPV types that cause genital warts. In Canada, HPV vaccination is approved for people with vaginas from ages 9 – 45 and people with penises from ages 9 – 26. However, doctors may choose to give it to anyone of any age.
- The protection offered by Gardasil works best before you become sexually active but it may help reduce the risk of HPV-related diseases even after exposure to HPV.
TESTING AND WHEN TO GET TESTED
- Genital warts are diagnosed by visual inspection. However, a biopsy can be taken if the diagnosis is not clear.
- Cervical cancer can be screened for by Pap tests (cervical screening) or a blood test looking for HPV DNA (this is not typically done in Nova Scotia).
- Pap tests are used to identify pre-cancerous cell changes caused by the HPV virus.
- It is important for sexually active people with vaginas to get regular Pap tests beginning at the age of 21 and then every 3 years following (or as recommended by health professional) until the age of 69.
- Although the Pap test and HPV DNA test are only available for people with vaginas, people with penises can be examined by their doctor for genital warts caused by HPV and for signs of cancers of the penis, anus, and mouth and throat.
- People who are immunosuppressed require more frequent HPV screening.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
- There is no cure for HPV virus once an individual is infected.
- Once infected, an individual with a healthy immune system will often clear the virus within one to two years.
- Genital warts can be treated by a healthcare professional using freezing, laser or with self-applied medication. At HSHC, we offer freezing, acid wart removal, and cream treatments.
- If abnormal cervical cell changes are found on Pap testing, they are closely monitored and can be destroyed or removed by specialists.
IF IT ISN’T TREATED, CAN IT LEAD TO MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS?
As discussed above, HPV can cause genital warts and cancer. Once an individual has been infected, they are at increased risk of re-infection of a different strain of HPV. Relationship issues may occur as a result of HPV infection for which counselling could be beneficial. At HSHC, our nurses can provide people with supportive counselling or referrals.
HOW TO BOOK AND PREPARE FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT
BOOKING AN APPOINTMENT
Booking an appointment with us is easy! Give us a call at 902.455.9656 ext. 0. You will be speaking with either a volunteer or a medical administrator. We cannot book appointments by email or Facebook. You cannot book an appointment for someone else, even if they are your partner or child. We will need to speak with the person directly. To book, we will need your full name, birth date, phone number, and a very brief reason for your visit. That’s it! The person on the phone will outline anything you need to know to prepare for your appointment. Our average wait time for an appointment is 4-6 weeks from the day you call.
Make sure you bring your valid provincial health card with you to your appointment. Clients without health cards are subject to doctors and lab fees.
Are you a youth? You do not need parental consent for any of our appointments.
Don’t have access to or lost your health card? You are entitled to your health card information! Call MSI toll-free at 1-800-563-8880 (in Nova Scotia) or at 902-496-7008 from Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. We require the number and the expiry date. Another tip: take a picture of your card! You will never lose it again!