The HPV Vaccine
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common infection that can be passed from person to person. Some types of HPV are spread through sexual contact. Sexually transmitted HPV can spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Studies suggest that at least three out of every four people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection at some time during their lives. To lower your risk of infection, limit your number of sexual partners and use condoms.
Some types of HPV cause cancer of the cervix. This type of cancer develops over a long period of time. HPV causes cells on or around the cervix to become abnormal. In some cases, these cells may progress to precancerous.
A vaccine is available that protects you against the two types of HPV that cause the most cases of cervical cancer and the two types of HPV that cause the most cases of genital warts. The vaccine triggers a woman’s immune system to fight off these viruses if she is exposed to them.
The vaccine is given in three doses over a six-month period. It is most effective when administered to girls and women before they become sexually active. The vaccine is approved for use by girls and women between 9 and 26 years of age and is recommended as a routine vaccination for all girls aged 11 to 12 years.
There is no cure for HPV so the best course of action is to take steps to prevent becoming infected with the virus. Do this by:
• Limiting your number of sexual partners; the more partners you have, the greater your risk of infection.
• Using condoms to reduce your risk of infection when you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
Here are a few things to note about the HPV vaccine:
• You do not need to be tested for HPV before you get vaccinated.
• It is best to get the HPV vaccine before you start having sex.
• If you are between 13 and 26 and have not received the vaccine, you should do so regardless of whether or not you are already sexually active.
• The vaccine does not protect you from all types of HPV.
• The vaccine is not a treatment for current HPV infections.
• The vaccine will not prevent all cases of cervical cancers.
• You should still have regular PAP tests even after you receive the vaccine.
• You should get the vaccine even in you already have an HPV infection because the vaccine can protect you from other types of HPV.
• The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women, but is safe for women who are breastfeeding.
• Research regarding women over 26 years of age and males is currently underway.