Human papillomavirus, also called HPV, is a common virus that can cause genital warts, anal cancer, penile cancer, and cervical cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “HPV is a very common virus; nearly 80 million people—about one in four—are currently infected in the United States. About 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year.” Fortunately, there is a vaccine available to help prevent infection from many of the most common strains of HPV.
How is HPV transmitted?
HPV lives on the skin, or mucous membranes, of infected people and is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). HPV can be passed from one person to another through sexual contact. In most cases, the HPV virus is harmless and causes no symptoms. Although the body’s immune system is often effective in getting rid of many types of HPV, other types of HPV can cause genital warts and, more seriously, cervical, penile, or anal cancer. Fortunately, the vast majority of HPV infections do not lead to cancer.
The transmission rate of HPV is high because most people who are infected do not know that they have HPV and, therefore, do not take necessary precautions. Even more importantly, HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and not via blood or bodily fluids, like most other STDs. Anyone who has ever been sexually active has the risk of getting and passing on HPV. Because there are no symptoms, a person can have HPV for years and not know that they are transmitting it. Using latex condoms is associated with a lower rate of HPV infection in women, but they are not entirely effective because areas that are not covered can be infected.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls and boys aged 11-12 years old be vaccinated against HPV, but the vaccine may be given as early as 9 years old. For the vaccine to be most effective, adolescents should complete the series before their first sexual contact in order to have time for an immune response to develop.
Vaccinated boys are protected against HPV-caused penile cancer, anal cancer, precancerous anal lesions, and genital warts. Vaccinated girls are protected from HPV-caused cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers, precancerous anal lesions, and genital warts.
Can teenagers and young adults receive the HPV vaccine?
If the HPV vaccine was not given between ages 11-12, it can still be administered to certain individuals, including:
- Girls and women aged 13-26 years old, especially those with a suppressed immune system.
- Boys and men aged 13-21 years old.
- Men aged 22-26 years old if they are gay, bisexual, or have a suppressed immune system.
- Transgender persons aged 22-26 years old.
- Although not specifically recommended, men aged 22-26 years old can get the vaccine.
Who should not receive the HPV vaccine?
Anyone who is severely allergic to yeast should not be immunized with the HPV vaccine. In addition, the product is not recommended for pregnant women.
How is the vaccine administered?
The HPV vaccine is given to 11 and 12 year old boys and girls as two shots, six to twelve months apart. Anyone who receives his or her two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine. If your teen has not gotten the HPV vaccine yet, talk to their doctor about getting it as soon as possible. If your child is older than 14 years old, three shots will need to be given over 6 months. In addition, three doses are recommended for people between 9 and 26 years old with certain conditions that compromise the immune system.
What are the risks associated with the HPV vaccine?
Gardasil® 9 is the first vaccine designed to prevent both genital warts and cervical cancer caused by HPV. The vaccine is a product of genetic engineering and is considered safe. Gardasil® 9 does not contain the human papillomavirus. Rather, it uses a harmless viral protein to stimulate the immune system and create resistance against the virus. It is, therefore, not possible to become infected with HPV from the vaccine.
As with any vaccination, there is some risk of side effects, though the majority of people who get the HPV vaccine do not have any problems with it. Mild or moderate risks associated with the HPV vaccine are:
- Reactions in the arm where the shot was given:
- Soreness (about 9 people in 10)
- Redness or swelling (about 1 person in 3)
- Mild (100°F) (about 1 person in 10)
- Moderate (102°F) (about 1 person in 65)
- Other problems:
- Headaches (about 1 person in 3)
Rarely, someone may develop a severe allergic reaction within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination. An allergic reaction might include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, and weakness. Call 911 for an immediate emergency or, otherwise, call your doctor.
Other Information About HPV Vaccine
HPV vaccination is not a treatment, but a prevention measure. The vaccine will not help those who already have HPV. Most people do not contract all 40 types of HPV at the same time, however, so the immunization is still recommended as a preventive measure against the HPV types that a woman or man does not have.
In addition, Gardasil® 9 does not prevent infection with other HPV types that are not contained in the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine does not replace the need for routine Pap smears to screen for cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition, and cancer in women.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov
For more information on the HPV vaccine, or to get the vaccine for your child, please see your healthcare provider. Laurie Buchwald, WHNP, FNP, is available for any questions and to administer the vaccine. To schedule an appointment, call the office at (540) 443-0500 or click to book an appointment online below.Book An Appointment Online with Laurie Buchwald