What is HPV?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. It is a viral infection, therefore it is caused by a virus and not a bacteria. There are more than 200 types of human papillomavirus and some types can cause cancer and genital warts.
Who can get HPV?
The virus affects both men and women, and roughly 14 million Americans are infected each year. Most sexually active men and women will contract the virus at some point in their lifetime.
How does HPV spread?
HPV is spread through sexual activity (vaginal, anal, oral) and direct skin to skin contact. The virus can still be passed on even if the person with HPV does not show signs or symptoms.
Is there a cure for HPV?
There is no cure for HPV, but there is a vaccine than can prevent you from being infected by certain types of HPV in the first place. The CDC recommends for children ages 11-12 to receive the vaccine in order to reduce the risk of cervical cancer and other HPV infections in the future, although it can be given as early as age 9.
How does the HPV vaccine work?
The HPV vaccine works by introducing tiny proteins that look like the outside of the real human papillomavirus into your body. In response to the vaccine, your immune system will produce antibodies that will recognize and destroy the proteins (think of it like a training exercise!). These antibodies stay in your body, giving you immunity and will protect you if you’re ever exposed to the real virus in the future.
There are currently three HPV vaccines on the market: Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9. While the vaccines do not protect you against all strains of HPV, it can protect you against high-risk HPV types that are known to lead to cervical cancer or genital warts.
- All three vaccines protect against HPV types 16 and 18, which is known to cause 80% of cervical cancer cases.
- Gardasil and Gardasil 9 protect against HPV types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts cases.
- Gardasil 9 protects against an additional five HPV types (31, 11, 45, 52 and 58) which can lead to cervical, anus, vaginal and penile cancer.
I’m a teenager, is it too late for me to get the HPV vaccine?
No, it’s not too late! For those who haven’t had the vaccine, doctors often administer it in women up to age 26 and up to age 21 in men. As of 2018, the FDA also expanded Gardasil 9 to include men and women ages 27 to 45.
For people ages 15-45, the vaccine is given in a series of 3 shots. The second shot is given 1 to 2 months after the first shot and the third shot is given 4 to 6 months after the second. For ages 9-14, the vaccine is given in a series of 2 shots and the second shot is given 6 months after the first.
Should I get the vaccine even if I’ve already had sex and don’t know if I’ve been exposed to HPV?
Yes, all people ages 9-26 should receive the HPV vaccine regardless of whether they’ve had sex. While the vaccine can not protect you against an already existing infection, it can protect you against strains you haven’t been exposed to yet.
How can I lower my chances of getting HPV?
- Get vaccinated! When you get an HPV vaccine you are not only protecting yourself from the virus, but also helping to stop the spread of the virus to others as well.
- Use condoms correctly each time you have sex. This can help prevent you from getting other STIs, including HPV.
Need help paying for the HPV Vaccine? The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides no-cost vaccines to children 18 years or younger who are uninsured, Medicaid-eligible, or American Indian/Alaska Native, see more here.
For more information on the HPV vaccine, see more here.