HPV (human papillomavirus) is the most commonly transmitted sexual infection in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says almost everyone will get it at some point in their lives.
It’s estimated more than 42 million Americans currently have the HPV virus, and an additional 13 million people become newly infected every year.
In most cases, the body is able to fight off HPV without a person even realizing they have it. But a lingering virus can result in some kinds of cancers and/or genital warts. While there is no cure for HPV, a vaccine can provide safe and effective protection.
How is HPV spread
HPV is spread through sexual contact with someone who has the virus, even if they’re not showing symptoms. The skin-to-skin contact can be oral, vaginal, or anal.
In very rare cases, it may be transmitted to an infant during childbirth.
WHAT DOES THE HPV VACCINE PROTECT AGAINST?
There are over 150 strains of HPV. The HPV vaccine provides protection against the strains that most commonly cause cervical cancer and oral-pharyngeal HPV cancer and cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, mouth, and throat. It also protects against the types of HPV that cause most genital warts and laryngeal papillomatosis.
The CDC says HPV causes about 36,000 cases of cancer every year.
WHO SHOULD GET VACCINATED AND WHEN?
Because HPV is sexually transmitted, the vaccine works best when given before someone becomes sexually active. The vaccine only protects against strains you haven’ caught yet.
What is the best age to get vaccinated?
The American Cancer Society says the best time to get vaccinated for HPV is between the ages of 9 and 12. Research shows younger kids have a better immune response to the vaccine. They also have a better chance of getting protected from the most strains, since they would have had less time to be exposed.
If they get vaccinated before their 15th birthday, kids only need two doses of the vaccine.
Can you get the HPV vaccine at 13 years old or older?
Yes, young people between the ages of 13 and 26 can still benefit from the vaccine.
If vaccinated between the ages of 13 and 26 years, The CDC says the second dose is given 1–2 months after the first dose, and the third dose is given 6 months after the first dose.
Who should not get the HPV vaccine? Is there an age limit?
The HPV vaccine isn’t right for everyone.
If you are over the age of 26, the American Cancer Society does not recommend you get the vaccine. The vaccine gets less effective for people who get it after 18 years old. It wouldn’t really benefit older adults.
Make sure to talk to your doctor though. Depending on your risk for new HPV infections, your doctor may still recommend you get vaccinated if you’re between the ages of 26 and 45.
People ages 45 and older can’t receive the HPV vaccine, since they are unlikely to receive any protection from it.
The vaccine is also not recommended for pregnant women or any person who is moderately or severely ill. If you are severely allergic to any of the components of the vaccine (ask your provider for details), you should not get the vaccine.
IS THE HPV VACCINE SAFE?
First introduced in 2006, the HPV vaccine has been extensively tested and studied and found to be safe. As part of testing, thousands of people around the world volunteered to be vaccinated before it was approved to make sure the vaccine is safe.
Since then, more than 135 million HPV vaccines have been distributed.
Studies have shown no one has died from the HPV vaccine.
As with any vaccine or medication, there are potential side effects.
These most commonly include:
- Pain or swelling at the injection site
As uncomfortable as these potential side effects might be, the potentially life-saving benefit of the vaccine far outweighs the temporary discomfort.
The CDC confirms the HPV vaccine doesn’t cause fertility issues. But getting cancer from HPV strains can sometimes limit your ability to have children if you, for example, have to get a hysterectomy or undergo chemotherapy.
If you’re vaccinated, do you still need to get cancer screenings?
You should still get screened for cervical cancer, since the vaccine doesn’t protect against every HPV type that causes it.
Make sure to understand the risk factors for cervical cancer.
Talk TO YOUR DOCTOR
Learn more about HPV prevention from the CDC.
If you have questions or concerns about the vaccine for either yourself or your child, talk to your healthcare provider.