In my last piece, I established that the health of the girl child is so important in the adolescence period because of the numbers of hormonal agents at play. I will take it further today by focusing on how to prevent and protect the adolescent girls from contracting sexually transmitted diseases, oral cancers, genital warts and cancer of the cervix in the future.
The adolescent boy is not excluded as they can also be prevented from the same STDs, oral cancers, genital warts and cancer of the penis. A medical breakthrough was reported recently. The world first cervical vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus made a positive impact on health care a decade after it was first administered. This resulted in a number of new cervical cancer cases being halved.
The vaccine also protects against cancers in the throat and mouth in both men and women. Research done in Australia shows that there is a 90 per cent reduction in HPV infections in the 10 years that the programme has been running. This is because the vaccine is given routinely to young girls and boys in Australia.
Human Papilloma Virus
Human papilloma virus is a common virus that affects both males and females, which is passed from person to person through sexual contact. It is one of the commonest sexually transmitted diseases. HPV can stay in the body for many years, causing changes to cells that can lead to a wide range of HPV-related cancers and other serious diseases. It is a highly contagious virus that is transmitted through different forms of sexual contact. Approximately 40 types of HPV affect the genital area and spread from person to person through sexual contact.
Cervical cancer is one of the few human cancers known to be directly caused by HPV. Most people get rid of the virus themselves without knowing they’ve contracted it, but one per cent of the population gets a persistent infection that lasts for years. Other risk factors for cervical cancers include smoking, a weak immune system, starting sex at a young age and having many sexual partners. Adolescents that experiment with kissing, oral sex, anal sex are more at risk.
At the early stage, cervical cancer typically has no symptoms. Later, symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse. While bleeding after sex may not be serious, it may also indicate the presence of cervical cancer. Weight loss is also a late sign of cervical cancer.
Genital warts are small fleshy growths, bumps or skin changes that appear on or around the genital or anal area. Genital warts are very common. Genital warts are the result of a viral skin infection caused by the human papilloma virus.
Prevention and protection
The best time to be vaccinated is before a person becomes sexually active. If a person has had sexual contact, then they may have been infected with some of these HPV types. If they have already been infected with any of these types, their protection against HPV-related cancers and disease after vaccination may be reduced. A series of three shots is recommended over six months.
Vaccinating males against HPV (protection from penile and anal cancer, some cancers of the head and neck, and genital warts) helps to protect unvaccinated females from cervical and other HPV-related cancers by reducing the spread of the virus.
HPV vaccine is prophylactic, It is 90 per cent protective of cervical cancer. It is recommended for our girls, especially before their first sexual experience. The concentration has been on girls worldwide because they are prone to cervical cancer. The disease is the second leading cause of female cancer after breast.
All girls and boys over the age of nine should be given the vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer and other HPV infections and complications in future. Women can also get the vaccine but regular pap smear tests for older females are still essential because the HPV vaccine does not protect against all cervical cancers. This is a sensitisation piece for us to act, spread the word and help to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer.
Since none of the currently available HPV vaccines protects against all HPV infections that cause cancer, it is important for vaccinated women to continue to undergo cervical cancer screening.
Other measures that may be put in place to support the adolescent includes sexual education and stressing on ways of acquiring/preventing sexually transmitted diseases. An example is the ABC prevention of STD: A-Abstaining from sex , B-be faithful to one partner, C- correct and consistent use of condoms. This will help the adolescent live a life free of STDs and ultimately a life free of HPV.
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