HPV Awareness Day

International HPV Awareness Day – what you need to know about HPV

Today (4 March) is International HPV Awareness Day: a global campaign designed to raise awareness around the human papillomavirus (HPV) and related diseases.

HPV refers to a group of more than 100 viruses, many of which are sexually transmitted during penetrative sex, or via close skin-to-skin contact or sexual touching.

According to figures published by The International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS), around 4 out of 5 of us will contract HPV at some point in our lives.

Although HPV usually has no symptoms, meaning many people are unaware that they are infected, routine testing for HPV remains important, as these viruses have been linked to several types of cancer.

HPV is also the cause of almost all cervical cancer diagnoses.

In this blog, we discuss how HPV can go undetected, and how testing plays a critical role in prevention.

Why don’t people know when they have HPV?

Like many sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HPV often comes with no symptoms.

This means that you can have HPV without experiencing any adverse effects from the virus. In fact, many people with HPV are asymptomatic (have no symptoms) until they develop more serious health issues associated with the virus.

This means that it can go unnoticed for many years, increasing the risk of HPV spreading from one person to another.

While the body’s immune system can clear many HPV infections naturally, some strains can linger and lead to health problems including genital warts around the penis, vagina or anus, and several cancers, including cervical cancer.

Why is HPV testing important?

Getting tested for HPV is essential for several reasons including:

  • Early detection – if caught early, identifying high-risk HPV infections can help prevent the development of cancer
  • Peace of mind – knowing your HPV status can help put your mind at rest, or enable you to seek the appropriate treatment as soon as possible
  • Informed decisions – knowing your HPV status can help you make informed decisions about your sexual activity and ongoing health

In the UK, the NHS offers routine cervical screening every 3-5 years, to women aged 25-64.

During a cervical screening, sometimes referred to as a smear test, a doctor or nurse will collect a small sample of cells from the cervix to check for certain ‘high-risk’ types of HPV that are known to cause changes to the cells of the cervix and, in turn, certain types of cancer.

The procedure is simple, pain free and only requires a short appointment.

Although men can contract HPV and pass it on to sexual partners via skin-to-skin contact, there is currently no reliable test on the market for HPV in men. However, this may become available with scientific advancements.

What can I do to protect myself from HPV?

As well as cervical screenings, there are other ways that you can prevent the spread and associated risks of HPV.

These include:

  • Using barrier methods of contraception (condoms)
    Condoms and other barrier methods including internal condoms (worn inside the vagina) and dental dams (used during oral sex) can help prevent skin-to-skin contact and the spread of bodily fluids.

    This is especially important as this is how HPV is passed from person-to-person.

  • Getting vaccinated 
    Early vaccination is the best way to guard against HPV. In the UK, the vaccine is offered in schools to all children around the age of 13. However, it can also be given to older teens and adults who are already sexual active.

More information about HPV prevention can be found on the IPVS website.

Regular STI testing

Getting tested regularly for other common STIs/STDs can help you ensure you remain in good health.

At AlphaBiolabs, we offer a wide range of sexual health tests to suit your needs. Our accredited laboratory tests for some of the most common pathogens in the UK including chlamydia, trichomoniasis, mycoplasma genitalium, gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes, hepatitis, and HIV.

Simply order your test online and we will ship your kit out to you immediately. The kit will contain everything you need to collect your samples and return them to our UK laboratory.

Depending on which test you order, you will be asked to provide a urine sample, vaginal swab sample, lesion swab sample, or a finger prick blood sample.

We also offer a Hepatitis B Immunity Test, which measures the level of protection you have against hepatitis B, following a course of vaccinations. This is useful if you change sexual partners frequently, work in a job that puts you at risk of infection, travel to countries where hepatitis B is widespread, or simply want reassurance of your protection against hepatitis B.

Our at-home test requires you to collect your own blood sample using a small finger prick lancet device.

For confidential advice on which test is best for you, contact our friendly, discreet Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email health@alphabiolabs.com.

Please note you must be at least 16 years of age to purchase a home STI test kit from AlphaBiolabs.

If you are experiencing symptoms that are causing you sever pain and discomfort, or that require a face-to-face examination, we advise you to contact your GP or local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.

Home STI tests

Explore our range of at-home STI test kits.