HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting nearly 80 million people in the United States. HPV is often transmitted sexually or through close skin-to-skin contact. Most people with HPV don’t show any symptoms or the infection goes away on its own. However, there are types of HPV infections that can lead to genital warts or certain types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
Taking precautions can help you prevent getting HPV. One of these safe and effective treatments is the HPV vaccine, available to people ages 9 to 45. Deemed safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine protects against diseases and cancers caused by HPV. Each vaccine is administered as a series of two or three injections over six months, depending on your age.
The HPV vaccine has been shown by studies to be extremely effective. It can significantly lower the chances of getting genital warts and HPV-related cancers by up to 99%. The vaccine is most effective when received before becoming sexually active. If you have already had sex, it’s still a good idea to get vaccinated. There are several strains of HPV that you may not have been exposed to from which the vaccination will still offer protection. The overall rate of HPV infection, genital warts and cervical precancers has significantly decreased since the vaccine was officially recommended in 2006 by the U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Vaccination will only protect you from a few HPV-related cancers, not all of them. A routine Pap test should be a part of prevention. A Pap test will help detect any precancerous changes in the cervix that might lead to cancer.
Using condoms during sex can help prevent transmitting HPV and other STIs. Abstinence or avoiding sexual activity also help.
Regardless of your age, talk with your nurse or doctor to find out if the HPV vaccine could benefit you.