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.