Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems.
About 20 million Americans are currently infected with human papilloma virus or HPV. HPV has been associated with several types of cancer. They include cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, and anus, as well as head and neck cancer. Each year in the U.S about 18,000 HPV associated cancers affect women. Cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer that HPV can cause in women.
About 7,000 HPV associated cancers each year affect men in the United States. Cancers of the head and neck are the most common type of cancers in men. HPV can also cause most cases of genital warts in both men and women. About one in 100 sexually active adults in the United States has genital warts at any one time.
Men who have sex with men and people who are infected with HIV are at the highest risk for HPV–related disease. The HPV vaccine is a strong weapon in cancer prevention. The quadrivalent HPV vaccine prevents the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer in women as well as anal cancer and genital warts in both women and men.
HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partners, even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms.
A person can have HPV even if years have passed since he or she had sexual contact with an infected person. Most infected persons do not realize they are infected or that they are passing the virus on to a sex partner. It is also possible to get more than one type of HPV.
In June 2006, the ACIP recommended HPV vaccine for 11 to 12 year old girls and also for teen girls and young women through age 26 who hadn’t already received the vaccine. In October 2009, quadrivalent HPV vaccine was also approved for use in boys and young men. The quadrivalent HPV vaccine is covered for both girls and boys through the Vaccines for Children Program.
HPV vaccines are recommended for all teen girls and women through age 26, who did not get all three doses of the vaccine when they were younger.
HPV vaccine is recommended for all teen boys and men through age 21, who did not get all three doses of the vaccine when they were younger. The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with men) and men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger. All men may get the vaccine through age 26, and should ask their doctor if getting vaccinated is right for them.
HPV vaccines are given as three shots to protect against HPV infection and HPV-related diseases. Two vaccines (Cervarix and Gardasil) have been shown to protect against most cervical cancers in women. One vaccine (Gardasil) also protects against genital warts and has been shown to protect against cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva. Both vaccines are available for females. Only Gardasil is available for males.
Talk to your child’s pediatrician about including this set of vaccines in your child’s inoculation regimen. It is the only vaccine that is approved to prevent any type of cancer. Although teens often dislike doctor visits and disregard the need for updated immunizations, this one can save their lives. Include this frank information when talking to your teen about sex and sexual activity.
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