WHAT IS HPV?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection. It can affect both men and women. This virus can be spread via vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus, but the most common modes of transmission are vaginal and anal intercourse. If contracted, the body normally clears this virus on its own, however, sometimes the body does not eradicate the virus. In this case, the affected person is at higher risk for developing complications of the virus, the most bothersome of which include cervical, anal, penile, vaginal, vulvar, and oropharyngeal (oral/throat) cancers, and genital warts. A big problem with this virus is that many times, it is asymptomatic. This means that the affected person usually has no clues that he or she has an infection, and can unknowingly be transmitting the infection to his or her sexual partners.
There are many different types of the HPV virus. The “high-risk” types are the types that can cause the cancers mentioned above. Other types can cause genital warts. This can be confusing. In general, the types that cause cancer do not cause genital warts, and vice versa.
The HPV vaccine that is used in the United States is called Gardasil 9 (9vHPV). This vaccine protects against 7 types of “high-risk” HPV that have been associated with cancer, in addition to 2 types of HPV that cause anogenital warts. The vaccine is recommended at age 11. The goal of vaccination at this early age is to achieve full vaccination prior to the onset of sexual activity. Parents have the option to vaccinate their children against the 9 types of HPV listed above with Gardasil 9 any time after age 11 (and in some cases age 9) through age 18. When the child becomes an adult at age 18, he or she may decide to receive the vaccine if their parents opted against vaccination in childhood. A benefit of vaccinating between the ages of 11 and 14 is that only 2 doses are required for full vaccination (0 and 6-12 months). After the 15th birthday, 3 doses are required for full vaccination (0, 1-2, and 6 months). The CDC recently expanded the eligible age group for the HPV vaccine from ages 9-26 to ages 9-45 after recognizing that some individuals in this expanded age group may be at increased risk for acquiring a new HPV infection.
HPV is very common, asymptomatic, and can cause serious cancers and genital warts. A vaccine is available. If you are interested in vaccinating yourself or your child, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss your options.
By: Gwyn Morson, FNP-C