Engaging in sexual activity is a natural part of life, but finding yourself with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) months later, makes such encounters less exciting. There are vaccination opportunities available that could help minimise risks to many individuals. Should you take them? What types of STIs could you receive a vaccine for?
Which STIs Can Be Vaccinated Against?
It is common for people not to want to talk about STIs such as genital warts, yet these are very real, common and often uncomfortable conditions that many people may have to deal with. Some people may not know that vaccines are available for some of these conditions, which could mean that you have less risk of contracting a harmful infection. In addition, a vaccine can help alleviate worry about contracting a potentially serious infection during your next sexual encounter.
The following are some sexually transmitted infections that have vaccination options available. They are well worth discussing with your doctor even if you are not sexually active now but could be at some time in the future.
The hepatitis B virus can cause severe liver disease. This may include liver scarring or cirrhosis and increasing the risk of liver cancer. Therefore, left untreated, it can be life-threatening. The hepatitis B vaccination (e.g. Engerix B®) may reduce or eliminate the risk of contracting this virus. That is why this routine vaccination is available to those who qualify.
In the UK, the hepatitis B vaccine is routinely given to babies as a part of the 6-in-1 vaccine, administered at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. Some babies are at a higher risk of contracting the virus if their mother is known to be infected; therefore, they are recommended extra doses at birth and at four weeks and one year.
Those most at risk for contracting hepatitis B include those who inject drugs or have a partner who injects drugs, those with multiple sexual partners and men who have sex with men.
You can test for hepatitis B using one of Yoxly’s STI kits, with our standard and comprehensive kits testing for hepatitis B, among other common STIs. One of the most effective ways of preventing hepatitis B from being transmitted during sexual intercourse is to use condoms for every episode of sex.
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Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most commonly transmitted STIs. There are various forms of HPV. Some types cause genital warts, which are harmless fleshy outgrowths that appear on or around the genitals; these are known as low-risk types. Some types (such as HPV-16 and HPV-18) are associated with genital cancers such as cervical, anal and penile cancers; these are known as high-risk types (hr-HPV).
HPV spreads through contact with someone with the virus during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It can also spread through close touching during sex, even if no penetration occurs. HPV may be transmitted to others even when there are no signs or symptoms of the condition. In some situations, a person may develop signs of the HPV infection many years after contracting the virus. The good news is that most HPV infections do not require any specific treatment and are spontaneously cleared by our immune system. Therefore, there is no routine testing for HPV infection.
The HPV vaccination programme was initially introduced in the UK in 2008 for girls aged 12–13. Now, vaccination is recommended for all boys and girls in school at ages 12–13. The newest vaccine, Gardasil-9®, protects against nine types of HPV, including some types of high-risk HPV, and comprises two or three doses.
Those who did not receive their HPV vaccination when offered at school (girls born after 1 September 1991 and boys born after 1 September 2006) are usually eligible to receive the vaccine free of charge on the NHS up to the age of 25.
Additionally, this vaccine is recommended for all men who have sex with men (MSM) up to the age of 45 if they are attending specialist sexual health clinics.
For those not eligible for free vaccination, a number of private clinics offer HPV vaccination.
Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). This virus is detectable in the stool or the blood of a person with the infection. It is a highly contagious virus that spreads through contact with infected blood or stool. Even at very small, microscopic levels, it can cause significant risk to individuals. It can also spread when there is close personal contact with a person with hepatitis A or by eating food or drink contaminated with the virus.
There is a vaccine available for hepatitis A (e.g. Avaxim® or Havrix®); however, this is not routinely offered in the UK. This is because, for most people, the risk of contracting hepatitis A is low.
Those at higher risk include people who are likely to come in contact with someone diagnosed with hepatitis A, those who plan to travel or live in an area where the virus is more common, those who liver disease, MSM, and people who inject drugs.
The hepatitis A vaccine is often given in conjunction with the hepatitis B vaccine (e.g. Twinrix) or the typhoid fever vaccination (e.g. ViATIM®).
Testing for hepatitis A is not widely available, so if you are worried you may have been exposed to hepatitis A, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional.
Monkeypox is a rare disease. It spreads when a person with the infection comes in contact with another person but does not spread easily between people. It may spread during sexual contact and enters the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or mucus membranes such as the eyes, nose, and mouth. A person with skin lesions or scabs may be at a higher risk of contracting monkeypox.
However, it is not a true STI in the natural sense. That is, monkeypox can spread through sexual contact, but it can also be transmitted where there is no sexual contact.
In the UK, there is no specific monkeypox vaccine; however, those at high risk of contracting monkeypox may be offered the smallpox vaccine, which protects against monkeypox. However, this vaccine is only available to a very limited cohort of people, so it is important that you speak with your doctor or visit your local sexual health service if you think you are at a high risk of monkeypox.
It's always wise to understand the risks you face. Learn more about hepatitis and HPV vaccinations and speak to your doctor or clinic if you may be eligible for them. Regular STI testing is important, as an early infection is usually easier to treat.