The Importance of Vaccination for HPV - HPV 101

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., ACCESS Media Relations Specialist
September 21, 2017

You may already be aware of the importance of the HPV vaccine. But what is HPV? And why is it important to get vaccinated? We hope to shed some light on the subject for you.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for the human papillomavirus that causes cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva in women; cancers of the penis in men; and cancers of the anus and back of the throat, including the tongue and tonsils, in both women and men. Some other HPV strains can also cause genital warts.

How common is HPV?

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 and 75 percent of sexually active adults are estimated to have HPV at some point in their lives. While many of those cases clear up naturally, the risk of HPV developing into cancer is a risk.

It’s important to know, too, that the virus and the cancers it causes is found more often in communities of color:

  • Black men have higher rates of anal cancer than white men.
  • Hispanic men have higher rates of penile cancer than non-Hispanic men.
  • Although Hispanic women have the highest rates of getting cervical cancer, black women have the highest rates of dying of cervical cancer.
  • Black women also have higher rates of vaginal cancer than women of other races.

How does a person get HPV?

HPV is spread through sexual activity, but you do not have to have sexual intercourse to get HPV. The virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity, including vaginal, anal or oral sex.

How do I know if I have it?

In many people, HPV does not cause any obvious symptoms. You might find genital warts that look like small, flesh-colored hard spots. You may also experience itching, pain or bleeding after intercourse. With that said, most symptoms are rare and only a Pap smear will likely find them. Even without symptoms, you can still pass it onto your sexual partner(s).

What is the cure?

There is currently no cure for HPV. The virus will eventually clear up naturally for most people, but there is no way to know for sure.

How can I prevent it?

Using a condom greatly reduces the risk of spreading HPV, but it’s not foolproof. The skin surrounding the genitals isn’t covered by a condom and can spread the virus.

For younger people, one of the most effective ways to prevent HPV is to get the vaccine that is very effective in protecting against HPV and lasts eight years.  All children – both boys and girls -- who are 11 or 12 years old should get two shots of HPV vaccine (usually started at the same time they receive the vaccines for meningitis and whooping cough). The HPV vaccine series can be started as early as age nine and should be finished before boys turn 13 years old. If your child is older than 14 years, three shots will need to be given over a period of six months. 

HPV vaccine is also recommended for the following people, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger:

  • Young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26
  • Young adults who are transgender through age 26
  • Young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26

My child is just a kid and not sexually active. Why should he or she get the vaccine now?

It’s actually best to get vaccinated early on because that is the best time for the body to develop a full immune response to HPV – before they begin sexual activity with another person. 

Is the HPV vaccine safe?

Yes. The HPV vaccination has been studied very carefully and continues to be monitored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No serious safety concerns have been linked to HPV vaccination.

The bottom line is that HPV is very common, and the HPV vaccine is a simple way to protect your child from it. In the four years after the vaccine was recommended in 2006, the amount of HPV infections in teen girls alone decreased by 56 percent. Research has also shown that fewer teens are getting genital warts since HPV vaccines have been in use.

 

 If you would like to make an appointment for an HPV vaccination, contact us today.

 

 

Sources:

www.cdc.gov/HPV

www.teenhealthsource.com