Gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men are being urged to take up a limited time offer of free HPV vaccines made available by NSW Health.

ACON is encouraging all men who have sex with men, trans-inclusive, aged between 20 and 34 to get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV).

Until 31 December 2018, NSW Health is offering the four-stage vaccine Gardasil for free to MSM due to the increased risk of anal cancer within the community and especially men living with HIV.

“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.

Vaccinating against HPV can also be key in preventing the development of genital and anal warts, which are almost exclusively caused by a HPV type the vaccination protects against.

Men who have sex with men are three to five times more likely to develop genital/anal warts, though only 10 per cent of those carrying HPV will ever develop visible warts

HPV is a common virus which has most closely been associated with the development of cervical cancer.

It is spread through genital contact during sex with someone who have the virus, which is passed through tiny breaks in the skin, and not blood or other bodily fluids.

Since 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,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill.

“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.”

Some MSM aged 20 or 21 may have already been vaccinated due to Gardasil being offered to male students in NSW high schools in 2013 and 2014.

You can check your vaccination history via the Australian Immunisation Register by calling 1800 653 809, or you can access your AIR through MyGov or using the Medicare Express Plus App.

MSM under 20 who were not vaccinated against HPV at school can access free catch-up vaccines from publicly-funded sexual health clinics.

Parkhill noted that if you already have HPV, the vaccine will not get rid of the infection.

“But it does protect against re-infection with the types of the virus included in the vaccine,” he said.

“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.

The vaccine will be offered in three doses and will be available at all public sexual health clinics around NSW.

To access it for free, you must begin the course before the end of 2018.

Vaccinations will be offered in three doses and made available in all publicly-funded sexual health clinics around the state.

For more information on how HPV affects men who have sex with men, visit Ending HIV’s information page.

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