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HPV; What women need to know

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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in Canada. HPV is a virus that can develop into precancerous lesions, genital warts, and cervical cancer. While most infected people don’t show symptoms and the virus normally resolves on its own, those that don’t are at risk of developing these serious and sometimes life threatening diseases.

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

In fact, 75% of sexually active Canadians will catch HPV during their lifetime. While the highest rates of cancer causing HPV infections (16-24%) were in women aged 15-29, women ages 27-45 are also at a possible risk.

There are 2 vaccines in Canada approved to prevent HPV in women: Gardasil 9® and Cervarix®. The vaccine does not treat HPV if infection has already occurred, but can protect against future strains. This is why vaccination is recommended as early as nine years old; it is most efficacious before sexual activity begins.

For women up to age 45 who will have a new partner or those that have had only a few partners in the past, this vaccine may provide benefit as it may cover HPV strains they haven’t been previously exposed to. If you are an unvaccinated woman in this age range and are newly single, consider talking to your physician about getting immunized. 

More Insight: Check out our insightful article on epigenetics and what this means for women’s health.

Author: Lindsay MacCormack-Ackerley is a licensed community pharmacist working in Halifax, NS since 2007. She contributes to Optimyz Magazine’s Ask the Pharmacist column.


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