Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is easily spread from skin to skin during contact. It causes various types of cancer including cervical, vaginal, penile, vulvar and certain mouth and throat cancers. HPV also causes genital warts in men and women.
HPV is a silent virus. Most of the times when you have HPV you have no symptoms. This means HPV can be spread without you knowing it. There is a vaccine to help stop the spread of HPV in both girls and boys. It is safe and effective and can protect males and females against some of the most common HPV types and the health problems that the virus can cause.
HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer in women with over 12,000 new cervical cancer cases each year in the United States. 4,000 women die each year from cervical cancer in the United States. Over 15,000 HPV associated cancers in the United States may be prevented each year by vaccination.
There are two HPV vaccines licensed by the FDA and both are effective against diseases caused by HPV types 16 and 18. These are the types of HPV that cause the most cervical cancers and other associated cancers. One of the vaccines, Gardasil, also protects against HPV types 6 and 11 and is licensed for use in males.
Girls and boys should receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12 years and if they did not receive all three doses then they should be immunized with three doses through age 26 years. The recommendation for boys is more recent than for girls and hence many boys over age 10 have not been immunized. It is important for preteens to get all three doses long before any sexual activity with another person begins. When immunized at a younger age higher protective antibody levels are produced. HPV infection can occur after a single contact with HPV during intimate body contact. This vaccine is an important tool to protect against cancer and genital warts.
HPV vaccine can be given safely with the other vaccines given at age 11 years. These are the meningitis vaccine (Menactra) and the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (Boostrix) vaccine. Three vaccine doses are given over six months. The second dose is given 1-2 months after the first and the third dose 6 months after the first. An easy way to remember is 0-2-6 months.
HPV vaccines do not treat or get rid of existing HPV infections and cervical cancer screening (PAP Tests) are still needed even if the HPV series has been completed.
Most health insurance plans cover HPV vaccine. Don’t wait. Protect your child now.