NSW’s leading LGBTI health organisation, ACON, is urging all gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) aged 20 to 34 years to get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) and the possible development of anal cancer, via a course of free vaccinations being made available for a limited time by NSW Health.
Until 31 December 2018, NSW Health is offering the four-valent human papillomavirus vaccine (4vHPV), Gardasil, for free to MSM (trans inclusive) aged 20 to 34 due to an increased risk of anal cancer within the community, and an even higher risk for men living with HIV.
HPV is a common virus affecting both men and women and is spread through genital contact during sex with someone who has the virus, passing through tiny breaks in the skin. It is not spread through blood or other bodily fluids. As condoms do not cover all genital skin, they do not offer complete protection from HPV.
“Most sexually active people will contract an HPV infection at some time in their lives, and most people have no symptoms and their body usually clears the infection on its own,” ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said.
MSM are three to five times more likely than heterosexual males to develop genital/anal warts, with almost all cases exclusively caused by a particular HPV type that the free vaccination protects against.
“With a rate similar to that of cervical cancer in unscreened women, MSM are at an increased risk of developing anal cancer. It is generally accepted that all anal cancers are caused by persistent HPV infection,” Parkhill said.
“Of particular concern, men living with HIV are at a higher risk of having persistent infections of certain types of HPV that can cause anal cancer.”
In NSW, male students in high school were offered 4vHPV in 2013 and 2014 so some MSM now aged 20 or 21 this year may have already been vaccinated. People can check their vaccination history via the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) by calling 1800 653 809 or accessing their AIR Immunisation History Statement through their MyGov account or using the Medicare Express Plus app. People under 20 years of age who missed out on HPV vaccination at school can access free catch- up HPV vaccine from publicly-funded sexual health clinics.
“This vaccination will not get rid of HPV if MSM already have it but it does protect against re-infection with the types of the virus included in the vaccine. There is evidence that MSM can continue to be re-infected with the virus up to at least the age of 35, and further exposure and infections with different types of HPV can increase someone’s chances of developing anal cancer later on in life,” Parkhill added.
Vaccinations will be offered in three doses and made available in all publicly-funded sexual health clinics around the state.
To access the vaccine for free, MSM must start the three dose course before the end of 2018.
For more information about HPV visit the Ending HIV page.
For more information about HPV vaccine dose spacing, visit the Federal Health Department’s immunisation page here.
Reg Domingo, ACON Media and Communications Manager
M: +61 (0)400 358 109