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What is HPV, and why is it important in prisons? Read this article to find out.
Cells affected by HPV viewed under a microscope.

Human Papillomavirus, known as HPV, is a sexually transmitted infection which can have very severe complications, including cancer.

Because it takes a long time to develop into cancer, and often does not cause any symptoms in the meantime, vaccination is key to ensure that people are protected from this disease. Other precautions, such as using protection during sex and getting regularly tested for HPV through cervical smear tests, are also key for preventing the disease.

The disease

Genital warts and/or cancer.

How does it feel?

People who are infected with HPV might have genital or skin warts, but people can also have no symptoms so may not know they are infected.

What is severe disease like?

People infected with certain types of HPV for along time with no treatment can develop cervical cancer, penile cancer, head and neck cancer, and anal cancer. Approximately 99% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

How does it spread?

HPV is incredibly common – most people in unvaccinated populations will get some type of HPV in their life. It is spread through skin-to-skin contact of the genital area, including penetrative and oral sex.

Who is at risk of getting it?

People who have weak immune systems or are HIV positive are at higher risk of HPV infection ,as well as people with high-risk behaviours, such as having multiple sexual partners.

Why does it matter in prisons?

Previous studies have found that rates of cervical cancer are approximately 100 times higher in prisons than in the general community. Risk factors to HPV infection overlap with risk factors for incarceration (high-risk behaviours such as having multiple sex partners, being HIV positive, smoking). Furthermore, national HPV screening programmes, which can detect HPV before it causes cancer, are often not available to women living in prison.

How effective is the vaccine?

Vaccination is 99% effective in preventing cervical cancer and cell changes which could lead to cancers, and genital warts. The vaccine schedule can require between one and three doses, depending on your country.

How safe is the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is a very safe vaccine. Common side effects include soreness where the needle went in, a slightly raised temperature and a headache. Serious side effects include hives and difficulty breathing and are rare (about 1 in 10,000).

Did you know?
There are over 100 different strains of the HPV virus. Some of these cause genital warts, others skin warts, and others are linked to cancer. Some cause no disease at all.
This article is from the free online

Prison Health: Vaccinations for People Working and Living in Prisons (Vaccine Trained Staff)

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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