Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted viral infection. There are more than 40 different kinds of HPV infections that can infect the genitalia, mouth and throats of men and women. In most cases, the immune system will fight the infection and it will go away on its own, causing no symptoms. In other cases, an HPV infection may lead to genital warts or cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus.
There are currently two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, available to protect against high-risk types of HPV. Gardasil, the first HPV vaccine, targets the types of HPV that cause genital warts. Cervarix helps protect women from cervical cancer. Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing the targeted HPV types, as well as the most common health problems that they cause. Both Gardasil and Cervarix are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
It is important to note that the vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV, so they will not prevent all cases of cervical cancer. Since about 30 percent of cervical cancers will not be prevented by the vaccine, it is important for young women to continue getting screened for cervical cancer through an annual PAP test. These vaccines do not prevent other sexually transmitted infections, so safe sex practices should always be followed.
HPV Vaccination Recommendations
The HPV vaccination is recommended for girls and boys. Both vaccines are effective for females between the ages of 9 and 26, and the Gardasil vaccine is effective for males between the ages of 9 and 26. Ideally females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV. These vaccinations are administered as three separate injections over the course of 6 months. Catch-up vaccination for HPV for those 27-45 years of age is not routinely recommended but in certain circumstances may still be indicated.
Risks of the HPV Vaccination
The CDC has approved these vaccinations as safe and effective. Side effects of the vaccination are mild and may include:
- Soreness at the injection site
Fainting may occur after the HPV vaccination. Because of this possible side effect, adolescents should be seated or lying down during the vaccination.
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of the HPV vaccine, however, patients should check with their insurance provider before their visit.