Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Girls and boys, teens to toddlers, sitting on the grass in a park

We know you are the ultimate protector of your child’s health, and that you want to keep your child as healthy as possible — now and in the future. That’s why we partner with you to help you protect your child from HPV-related cancers and diseases. At CHOC Children’s, we provide the HPV vaccine at all our pediatric offices.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus that can cause certain cancers and diseases in both males and females. Almost every person who is sexually active will acquire HPV at some point in their life without the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective when given at a younger age along with other vaccines, long before a person becomes sexually active.

The facts about human papillomavirus (HPV)

Blue arrow   HPV is a virus that can cause certain cancers in both males and females

Blue arrow   About 75% to 80% of males and females will become infected with HPV in their lifetime

Blue arrow   HPV often has no visible signs or symptoms, so it can be passed on without knowing it

There is a vaccine that prevents against HPV-related cancers and diseases.
Talk to your child’s doctor before they are at risk.

Why Does My Child Need a Vaccine for a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

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. And, the vaccine will prevent the covered types of HPV only if they are given before exposure to the virus. This is also an age when other vaccinations are given, and when children are likely to still be getting regular medical check-ups.

The HPV vaccine protects against cancers and diseases caused by HPV infection. That’s why CHOC Children’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that both boys and girls be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), starting at 11 years old.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Facts

What is Human Papillomavirus?

Human Papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted infection affecting both males and females. It causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer, and can cause mouth, throat, anal, and penile cancers and genital warts.

There are nearly 80 million people currently infected with HPV in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and nearly 14 million people, including teenagers, become infected with HPV each year. Unfortunately, because HPV often has no signs or symptoms, many people who have the virus don’t even know it. You can be exposed to HPV the first time sexual activity occurs, from only one sexual partner.

What are the symptoms of HPV?

Unfortunately, there are no symptoms for most types of HPV infections. For some types of HPV, the most visible symptoms are genital warts. HPV warts are small, flesh-colored, either flat or bumpy, growths that appear singly or in clusters and can have a cauliflower-like appearance.

How is HPV prevented?

The only way to prevent HPV infection is by getting vaccinated with the HPV vaccine prior to contracting the virus. Condoms do not fully protect against HPV infection.

How is HPV treated?

There currently isn’t a treatment for HPV. However, there is a vaccine to provide protection from certain strains of HPV if given before a person becomes infected with the HPV virus.
For the HPV vaccine to be most effective, it’s best to give it before youth become sexually active.

Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems, and most infections go away by themselves within two years. But, sometimes HPV infections last longer and can cause certain cancers and diseases.

What is the HPV vaccine?

There are currently three brands of HPV vaccine — Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix. All of these vaccines protect against HPV types 16 and 18 — the 2 types that cause 70% of cervical cancer cases. Gardasil also protects you from types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of cases of genital warts. Gardasil 9 protects against another 5 types of HPV (types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58) that can also lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva, or vagina.

When should my child receive the HPV vaccination?

It is recommended that all boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years old get vaccinated. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for boys and men through age 21 and for girls and women through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger. Men age 22 through 26 may also receive catch up doses if recommended by their doctor.

It is important to talk to your child’s medical provider to determine the correct dosing schedule. The HPV vaccination is given in a series of two or three shots, depending on your child’s age at the first dose, or if your child is immunocompromised.

Why is it recommended that my child receive the vaccination at such a young age if it is a sexually transmitted disease?

The vaccines work best at this age. Research shows that younger people have a better immune response to the vaccine than those in their late teens and early 20s. And, the vaccines will prevent the covered types of HPV only if they are given before exposure to the virus. This is also an age when other vaccinations are given, and when children are likely to still be getting regular medical check-ups.

Myths about the HPV Vaccine

There are many myths and misunderstandings about HPV and the diseases it causes. It can be hard to know what's true and what's false. What is known is that HPV affects nearly all sexually active men and women at some point in their lives. The HPV vaccine is more effective the younger it is given. CHOC Children's pediatrician, Dr. Marisa Turner, responds to the most common myths she hears from parents about the HPV vaccine.

Some parents decline the HPV vaccine because they think since they have years until their child is sexually active. However, many parents don’t realize the vaccine is more effective the earlier it is given. The immune response to the vaccine is better when given younger, therefore only two doses are needed if the series is started prior to the 15th birthday.

The number of recommended doses depends on the child’s age when they receive their first dose. A two-dose series is given for children starting the series before their 15th birthday. Children who start the series on or after their 15th birthday will receive a three-dose series.
Although sexual intercourse is the most common way to get HPV, it is not the only way to get it. 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 even have it. Even for those that are having protected intercourse, you can still catch HPV despite using a condom.
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.

It’s important for adolescents to take a part in their own health and begin to realize that decisions they make now can affect them later in life and their future health.
Most adults are likely to get HPV at some point in their lives. Some people clear it on their own, but others do not. If your child is vaccinated against HPV and later contracts HPV, it’s likely to be a strain you can clear on your own.

The HPV vaccine prevents against the nine strains of HPV most likely to lead to cancer. About half of all new infections are in people 15-24-year-olds, the peak age at which one should receive the HPV vaccine.
The HPV vaccine has benefits for males too. It prevents oral, anal and penile cancer, and genital warts. 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.
The HPV vaccine was first administered in 2006. Prior to coming to market, it was studied for many years. Ongoing studies have tracked patients for years after receiving the vaccine, and they have not shown any adverse effects. The HPV vaccine is administered and studied all over the world.

Each year in the U.S., 13,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer. This number has decreased since the introduction of the HPV vaccine.
There is no good treatment for HPV. Some strains clear on their own, but others do not. It’s better to get vaccinated and lower your risk of getting HPV in the first place.
Receiving the HPV vaccine will not affect fertility. However, having HPV can cause changes in the cervix which can later affect fertility.