Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus, with more than 200 types known. Of these, about 40 can infect your genital area — vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, and scrotum — and your mouth and throat.
The genital HPV types spread during sexual contact and cause the most common sexually transmitted disease.
While most cases of HPV infection aren’t serious and go away on their own, some lead to genital warts and cancer, making a vaccine an important medical tool.
At Viva Health, board-certified OB/GYN Dr. Aleksander J. Bodnar and his staff recommend the HPV vaccine for their patients who fall within the specified age range. Here’s what they want you to know about HPV infections and the vaccine that can help prevent them.
The types and risks of HPV infection
Genital HPV infections aren’t just common; the fact is, almost everyone who has sex contracts HPV at some point in their lives. Since it doesn’t produce symptoms and usually goes away on its own, people generally don’t know they’ve been infected.
However, some kinds of HPV can lead to genital warts and others to certain types of cancer.
Types 6 and 11 of HPV are responsible for most cases of genital warts. Warts aren’t fun, but they’re considered a low-risk infection because they don’t lead to cancer or other serious medical problems.
At least 12 types of HPV can lead to cancer, but types 16 and 18 lead to most cancer cases. These strains are considered high-risk HPV. Cervical cancer is the type most commonly linked to HPV, but HPV can also lead to cancers of the genitals, mouth, and throat.
Because there’s a high risk of cervical cancer, Dr. Bodnar provides regular Pap smears with HPV tests to make sure you’re healthy.
You can also reduce your chances of getting HPV by using condoms and dental dams; if you do get genital warts, Dr. Bodnar can remove them. In addition, high-risk HPV infections can usually be treated before they turn cancerous, as long as they’re detected early.
Who should get the HPV vaccine?
The best way to prevent HPV infection is to get the HPV vaccine. It protects against the types of HPV that can lead to cancer or genital warts. In the US, it goes by the brand name Gardasil 9, and it protects against:
- HPV types 16 and 18 — they cause 80% of cervical cancer cases
- HPV types 6 and 11: they cause 90% of genital warts cases
- HPV types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58: all lead to cancer of the cervix, anus, vulva/vagina, penis, or throat
The vaccine is given as a series of shots. Children ages 9-14 get two doses, and the second shot is given six months after the first. Ages 15-45 get three doses, with the second shot given two months after the first and the third shot four months after that.
It’s recommended that children ages 11-12 receive the vaccine so they’re fully protected before becoming sexually active. But everyone ages 9-45 should get it to protect against genital warts and/or other HPV strains that can cause cancer.
The HPV vaccine is one of the most effective you can receive. Studies show it works extremely well to prevent high-risk HPV infections and resulting complications.
And if you get completely vaccinated before you have sex, your chances of getting genital warts and cancer caused by HPV are reduced by up to 99%.
Have questions about the HPV vaccine or want to make an appointment to get one? Give Viva Health a call at either of our locations, in Linden and Clifton, New Jersey, or book your appointment online.