Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and most people who are sexually active will be exposed to it in their lifetime.
Here are answers to six frequently asked questions about HPV and the HPV vaccine:
How do I know if I have HPV?
There are often no signs or symptoms of HPV, which makes it easy to pass the virus on to others.
If the virus is not cleared by your immune system (the part of your body that fights off infection), it may cause:
- Genital warts on the vulva, vagina, cervix or anus of women or penis or anus of men
- Cancer of the vagina, cervix, vulva, anus and throat
What can I do to protect myself against HPV?
The HPV vaccine is an effective way to protect yourself against HPV.
Although the vaccine works best if given before you become sexually active, it can still help prevent you from getting types of HPV that you haven’t been exposed to yet, even if you’ve had sex. The most recent HPV vaccine protects against nine different types of HPV, and will be given in two or three shots depending on your age.
When should I get the HPV vaccine?
It is best to get the vaccine before you become sexually active. We recommend everyone get vaccinated between the ages of 11 and 12 years old, but you can still get the vaccine up until age 26. If you are between the ages of 27 and 45, talk to your doctor about whether the vaccine makes sense for you.
How well does the HPV vaccine work?
If given before you are exposed to HPV, the vaccine can prevent up to 99 percent of cancers caused by HPV, including cervical cancer and head and neck cancers. You may still get some benefit from the vaccine if you have been exposed only to certain types of HPV, as the vaccine helps prevent against nine different types of HPV.
What are the risks of getting the HPV vaccine?
The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine are pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. Less commonly, patients experience headaches, dizziness or fainting, especially if they receive the vaccine when they are young.
Is there anything else I can do to protect myself from HPV aside from getting the HPV vaccine?
Yes. You can also help protect yourself by:
- Limiting your number of sexual partners.
- Using male or female condoms with vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, condoms cover only a small amount of skin and do not completely protect against HPV infection.
- Being screened for cervical cancer. For most women, this will mean getting regular pap smears starting at age 21.
If you're interested in getting the HPV vaccine for you or a loved one, please request an appointment.