Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 200 related viruses and some of these are transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex. It is estimated that between 80 and 90% of the sexually active population will contract the infection at some point in their life. Dr. Mariela Navarro, a gynecologist at the Hospiten Rambla University Hospital, points out that “there are two groups of sexual transmission: low risk and high risk, in relation to the probability of causing cancer or not. High-risk HPV infections are asymptomatic, so it is especially important to have regular gynecological check-ups with cervical cytology (pap tests) and/or viral detection with HPV PCR”.
The specialist insists that “both men and women can be infected with HPV and develop cancers as a result of the infection, like cervical, oropharyngeal, anus, penis, vagina or vulva cancers”.
Vaccination is especially effective if the person is not actually infected with the virus and this can only be ensured when sexual activity has not yet started. "For this reason, pre-adolescents and adolescents are who will potentially benefit the most from the preventive effects of the vaccine", says Dr. Federico Gentile, a pediatrician at the Hospiten Rambla University Hospital.
In men, the development of genital cancer due to HPV and malignant tumors of the throat, which are mostly caused by these viruses and affect more men than women, is becoming more common. Men who have sexual relations with other men are particularly vulnerable, with a higher risk of suffering from the virus and tumors secondary to HPV. For that reason, some autonomous regions have developed specific programs that finance HPV vaccination.
In general terms, vaccination against HPV is included in the vaccination schedules of all the Spanish autonomous regions but only for girls, administered in most cases at 12 years of age. The complete regimen consists of 2 or 3 doses, depending on the starting age, and is completed in 6 months. Side effects are usually mild, like pain or redness at the injection site and occasionally fever may occur (in these cases paracetamol or ibuprofen will be administered).
Currently in Spain there are three vaccines to combat the Human Papillomavirus, which protect against the two main types of papillomavirus that are more likely to cause cancer: the bivalent vaccine (Cervarix®), the polyvalent vaccine (Gardasil®) and the Polyvalent vaccine (Gardasil 9®). The latter extends its protection by including new viral types, reaching at least 90% coverage and also protecting against the papillomavirus infection that causes benign genital warts.
However, even if the complete vaccination schedule has been administered, it is important to continue taking the appropriate precautions to avoid the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.