Have you heard about HPV? How worried should you be about it? Should your child get the HPV vaccine? We’ve got the facts for you.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually-transmitted infection (STI). It’s the most common STI in the United States, and anyone sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV (even those with only one sexual partner). HPV can occur even without penetrative intercourse, and you can also develop symptoms years after contracting HPV.
According to the CDC, 90% of people who contract HPV have it go away on its own within two years without suffering any health problems. However, it may cause genital warts or cancer when it does not go away.
“There’s no useful test to find out a person’s ‘HPV status,’” shares the American Cancer Society, “because an HPV test result can change over months or years as the body fights the virus.” Additionally, the FDA has only approved cervical HPV tests, so those without a cervix cannot be tested for HPV.”
HPV can cause cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina, penis, vulva, anus, and even the back of the throat. These cancers may take years to develop after an HPV infection. Most people with HPV will not develop cancer, but it is important to keep up with regular cancer screenings.
There are many strains of HPV. Some cause genital warts (which can also appear in the throat). These warts may be so small they are nearly invisible but can also grow into clusters or cauliflower-like shapes. These warts may cause itching or discomfort, bleeding, and swell enough to cause difficulty with urination in severe cases. Both males and females are at risk of contracting genital warts from HPV and transmitting the virus to others through physical contact or intercourse.
Both girls and boys should get the HPV vaccine. The vaccines are given as a shot in the upper arm. To get the most protection, you need to have either 2 or 3 doses of the vaccine, depending on the age at which the series is started.
These vaccinations work best before the person is sexually active and exposed to HPV. However, they still reduce the risk of getting HPV if given after a person has become sexually active. The ideal age for the HPV vaccination is 11 or 12 years, but it can be given starting at nine years up to 26 years and sometimes above that.
The CDC recommends that 11- to 12-year-olds receive two doses of the HPV vaccine at least six months apart. Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26, need three doses of the HPV vaccine to protect against cancer-causing HPV infection.
Millions of people have been vaccinated against HPV since the vaccine became available. There have been no reports of severe side effects or bad reactions to the vaccine. The most common side effect of the vaccine is soreness and redness where the shot was given.
Studies show that getting all the recommended doses of the HPV vaccine before being sexually active can reduce the risk of getting certain types of HPV-related cancer by up to 99%. If you have had sex, you may already be infected with one or more types of HPV, but you can still get the vaccine if you are under 26 years of age. In addition, the vaccine may help prevent the other types of HPV infections you are not infected with that are included in the vaccination.