HPV (human papillomavirus) is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives.
So why does HPV still exist? Here are just a few reasons:
- People don’t know what HPV is (and we can’t really blame them). Not every case leads to cervical cancer. It’s often called the “common cold” of STI’s. It comes and goes and often causes no trouble. So most people infected with HPV unknowingly pass it on to their partner because they’re unaware of their own HPV status.
- There’s still lack of uptake & misconceptions about the vaccine. The HPV vaccine is provided free to girls and boys in Grade 6; females born in 1994 or later, among other individuals. But the reality is, only 65 to 70% of those eligible in BC are choosing to get vaccinated.
Watch Dr. Gina Ogilvie and our President + CEO, Genesa Greening discuss HPV awareness on CTV Morning Live:
Dr. Gina Ogilvie has dedicated her career to improving HPV screening and vaccine uptake. She led a study last fall on sexual behaviours in adolescent girls before and after the introduction of the HPV vaccine.
“Parents told us in surveys that they were concerned their children would make poor sexual health choices if they were vaccinated against HPV,” Dr. Ogilvie said in an interview. But the study actually found that after the vaccine was introduced, girls were actually less likely to have intercourse before the age of 14.
It’s not that kids are becoming more conservative. It’s that they are more informed about the consequences of their decisions and they have more autonomy to make choices about their bodies.” - Dr. Gina Ogilvie.
So now that she’s dispelled that myth, what does Dr. Ogilvie want to see happen next? (spoiler alert: we also want what she wants)
Ultimately, eradicating cervical cancer would be a monumental achievement. About 99.7 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by an HPV infection, particularly one that lingers.
The vaccine and screening. We have the tools. We just need to put them to use.
We have the vaccine, for HPV prevention. Dr. Ogilvie is currently actively working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on the effectiveness of a single-dose schedule. This would be more cost-effective and decrease barriers for low-resource communities. Plus, quite simply, people are more likely to get a shot if they only have to do it once.
But we also have screening. Pap tests and HPV tests can detect the HPV virus, that goes on to cause precancerous lesions, that then go on to cause cervical cancer. We can treat those lesions... if we catch them early enough.
But hey, fun fact: BC was actually the first jurisdiction in the world to publicly-fund Pap smears in 1949. So we’ve been leading the charge in this area for some time now. We should be very proud that all this work is happening right here in our own backyard.
Want to learn more? Check out Immunize BC’s Frequently asked questions about HPV.
… and follow Dr. Ogilvie while you’re here, @gina_ginao.