Human papillomavirus, better known by the acronym HPV, has for the most part been associated with female health, and is linked with the incidence of cervical cancer. In recent years, there have been campaigns launched by various bodies and officials in countries such as the US and the UK to make HPV vaccinations mandatory for young women, in order to prevent the growth of potentially fatal cancerous cells in the cervix (the opening of the uterus). In the last few months, however, there have been growing calls in these countries to make the vaccination mandatory for men too, following a rise in certain types of cancers. Here, we talk to the American Hospital’s Dr Nasreen Salahuddin to find out more about the virus, which vaccines are available in the UAE, and who should have them.
What is human papillomavirus (HPV) exactly?
It’s known as a virus you can get through a variety of different means, including sexual exposure. There are more than 100 strains that we know of, but the ones we see most frequently are 16, 18, 31 and 45, which are the most common causes of cervical pap smear abnormalities in women. Strains 6 and 11 are linked to genital warts, and the most common overall are 6, 11, 16, 18, 35 and 45.
It’s very simple. What happens with HPV is that when it comes into contact with the genital skin, it attaches to the epithelium tissue in the cervix (at the opening of the cervix) and once the virus is here the cells can mutate into cancerous cells and once this has happened, they can grow.
Can a vaccination protect you?
From the most common strains, yes. There are two vaccinations available in the UAE, the first is Gardasil, which will protect you from strains 6, 11, 16 and 18 – as I mentioned before, 6 and 11 are linked to genital warts, and 16 and 18 are two strains that can give you cervical cancer. The other vaccination available in the UAE is Cervarix, which is for 16, 18, 31 and 45, so it does not cover genital wart strains. The difference between these two vaccinations is firstly that Gardasil is only effective from the age of nine up to 26, whereas Cervarix can be given from the age of 10 up to the age of 55. Both vaccinations are given in three separate injected doses. The first can be given anytime, the second one is a month later, and the third is four months later.
And you must do all three?
Yes, you should have all three because you need to complete the course in order for the threat to be removed.
Recent research in America has suggested that men are increasingly at risk of contracting other types of cancer after having contact with women carrying the virus. Should men look at getting vaccinated too?
In America nowadays they recommend that the Garadsil vaccination should be given to males aged nine to 26 because they are engaging in relationships with women, and so the guideline from the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) is to give them the same HPV vaccination.
Is the vaccination available to men in Dubai?
Yes. In our primary care unit, if any patient goes to see a doctor and is comfortable with the idea and agrees to it, we can vaccinate them.
What are the side effects associated with the vaccination?
You might have a bit of a fever after the vaccination, and the second thing is that people can have some pain at the site of the injection.
Do you recommend people have the vaccination?
I recommend that young girls and men have the vaccination, yes.
How important is it that people know this is available in the UAE?
Education is very important in everything. This is one of the most common types of cancer we come across in pap smear tests, and I think by doing these vaccinations we can decrease the incidence and help prevent cancers caused by certain strains of HPV. There isn’t a vaccine for all strains yet, but at least we can cover some.
For more information and enquiries about getting vaccinated, contact the American Hospital on 04 336 7777.