Human Papillomavirus FAQs & Myths: Understanding HPV

Despite HPV being the most common sexually transmitted infection, there are many misconceptions and questions about HPV, the vaccine and contraction. Knowing the facts about HPV and the HPV vaccine can protect your child from the dangers of the virus.

Common Questions About HPV Infections

How common is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. About 75% to 80% of people will be infected with HPV in their life.

Is HPV an STD?

Yes, it can be. HPV typically starts out as a sexually transmitted infection without symptoms that can then develop into different types of sexually transmitted disease with a variety of symptoms.

Does HPV ever go away?

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own within two years. However, if HPV does not clear on its own, the infection can cause health problems or more serious diseases, like cancer, later in life.

Can you get HPV from kissing?

Yes, HPV can be spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact such as genital contact of any kind or even from kissing.

Who can get HPV?

Anyone. Any person of any gender can contract and transmit HPV through vaginal, anal or oral sex, or intimate skin-to-skin contact.

Common Questions About the HPV Vaccine

How long does the HPV vaccine last?

Studies have shown that the HPV vaccine offers long-lasting protection. There is no data that has a set timeline for how long the vaccine protection lasts. The duration of protection continues to be monitored and studied.

Do those who’ve received the HPV vaccine still need to have Pap tests?

Yes. It is still important to get regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. While the HPV vaccine protects against HPV strains most likely to cause cervical cancer, they can still contract a different strain or have been infected before receiving their vaccine.

Is the HPV vaccine mandatory for school?

Different states have different vaccine requirements for school enrollment. Currently, California does not require HPV vaccine for school enrollment.

Should my child get the HPV vaccination if they are not sexually active?

Yes, the vaccine has the best chance of protecting against the virus and cancer if your child gets the shots before becoming sexually active.

Can my child get the HPV vaccine if they are sexually active?

Even though it’s best if your child receives the vaccine before they are sexually active, they can still get it while being sexually active. If your child has come into contact with an HPV strain, the vaccine can protect them from other strains they haven’t encountered. Additionally, youth with a good immune system are likely to clear an HPV infection and will gain additional protection against reinfection with HPV strains that can cause warts and/or cancer.

Where can I get the HPV vaccine?

You can get the HPV vaccine at your primary care doctor’s office or a clinic near you. CHOC’s primary care offices offer vaccination appointments for children, adolescents and young adults.

Why does my child need a vaccine for a sexually transmitted infection?

The HPV vaccine works best when given at a young age, beginning at 11 years old. Research shows that younger people have a better immune response to the HPV vaccine than those in their late teens and early 20s. This is also the age for other standard vaccinations and when children are likely to be still getting regular medical check-ups.

The vaccine works best to prevent infection of nine types of HPV when it is received before exposure to the virus. So, it’s best to be vaccinated prior to sexual activity.

Myths about the HPV Vaccine

Myth 1: My child is too young. They don’t need the vaccine yet.

Some parents decline the HPV vaccine because they think they will have years until their child is sexually active. However, many parents don’t realize the vaccine is more effective the earlier it is given. Younger children have the best immune response to the vaccine.

Myth 2: You can only get HPV if you’re sexually active.

Although sexual intercourse is the most common way to get HPV, it is not the only way to get it. HPV can also be spread by non-sexual skin-to-skin contact.

It could take just one encounter to catch the virus, and most people who carry the virus have no symptoms and don’t realize they have it. Even those who are having protected intercourse can still catch HPV despite using a condom. Condoms do not cover all the genital skin.

Myth 3: Giving my child the HPV vaccine will make them sexually active.

Multiple studies have shown that giving this vaccine doesn’t increase rates of sexual activity in those patients compared to those who don’t receive it.

Myth 4: Getting the vaccine will guarantee my child does not contract HPV.

Most adults are likely to get HPV at some point in their lives. Some people clear it on their own, but others do not. The HPV vaccine prevents the nine strains of HPV most likely to lead to cancer. However, it is possible that your child could contract an HPV strain that the vaccine does not protect against.

Myth 5: HPV causes cervical cancer, so my son does not need the HPV vaccine.

HPV affects all genders. The HPV vaccine prevents oral, anal and penile cancer and warts in addition to preventing cervical cancer. Getting vaccinated will also help prevent them from passing it on to other partners, which can happen even in the absence of visible symptoms of HPV.

Myth 6: This vaccine is new, so it must not be safe enough to give my child.

The HPV vaccine was first administered in 2006. Before coming to market, it was studied for many years. Ongoing studies have tracked patients for years after receiving the vaccine, and it has been proven to be safe. The HPV vaccine is administered and studied all over the world.

Myth 7: My child doesn’t need the HPV vaccine. If they contract HPV, we’ll just treat it.

There is no good treatment for HPV. Some strains clear on their own, but others do not and can lead to various cancers. It’s better to get vaccinated and lower your risk of getting HPV in the first place.

Myth 8: Getting the HPV vaccine will affect my child’s fertility later in life.

Receiving the HPV vaccine will not affect fertility. However, contracting HPV can cause changes in the cervix which can later affect fertility.

Myth 9: People with HPV always show symptoms.

Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms from it. This means that they can spread HPV unknowingly.

Myth 10: There are treatment options for HPV.

There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for health-related issues caused by HPV infections.

Contact Your Doctor

The HPV vaccine is important to protect your child’s health. HPV can lead to various forms of cancer and genital warts in all genders. The HPV vaccine is your child’s best shot at protection from these viral infections and prevention against cancers and diseases caused by HPV infection. That’s why CHOC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that all youth be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), starting at 11 years old.