How To Prevent HPV
The majority of people can be expected to engage in sexual activity at some point during their life. Therefore, it seems that nearly everyone will be exposed to the virus. So what can you reasonably do to help prevent HPV? One of the answers depends on your age, and that answer is “get vaccinated.”
The HPV vaccine was designed to help protect against diseases that can be caused by HPV. It is recommended to be given to males and females at age 11 or 12 years, although it can be given as early as age 9. The vaccine also can be administered to anyone up to age 45 if they have not already been vaccinated. (Read more about the HPV vaccine at “What’s Up with the HPV Vaccine?” below)
Another answer is screening. For women age 21 to 65, getting screened for cervical cancer should be done routinely, at least every three years. (For details on screening for cervical cancer, see “Who Should Be Screened for Cervical Cancer?”)
The third answer is lifestyle. If you are sexually active, it is recommended you use latex condoms and/or dental dams every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Even though condoms and dental dams are not as effective against HPV as they are against HIV, chlamydia, and other sexually transmitted diseases, they can reduce your chances of getting the virus.
If you are in a mutually monogamous relationship, then you are most likely safe from contracting the virus. In either case, you should always maintain a healthy lifestyle to support and promote your immune system. That means following a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, not smoking, and practicing stress reduction. All of these habits can help keep your immune system functioning optimally and assist in warding off the virus.
What’s Up with the HPV Vaccine?
You’ve probably heard lots of discussion and controversy about the HPV vaccine. We’ll address the talk and controversy in other articles, but here we want to present the facts about administering the vaccine and what experts know about it thus far.
What are the types of HPV vaccines?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three HPV vaccines: Gardasil®, Gardasil® 9, and Cervarix®. As of May 2017, Gardasil® 9 is the only HPV vaccine you can get in the United States. The other two vaccines are available in other countries.
All three of the vaccines prevent infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which are two of the high-risk types that are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers and a higher percentage of some other cancers caused by HPV.
Gardasil® also provides protection against HPV types 6 and 11, which are responsible for 90 percent of genital warts. Gardasil® 9, as the name implies, provides additional protection than Gardasil®; that is, it prevents infection from HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18, as well as 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.
FDA Approves Merck’s GARDASIL® 9 for the Prevention of Certain HPV-Related Head and Neck Cancers. This cancer affects 13,500 Americans annually.
How effective are HPV vaccines?
Results of clinical trials have shown that HPV vaccination is nearly 100 percent effective against precancers and genital warts. More than a decade of data show that vaccinating against HPV provides long-lasting protection. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccine becomes less protective over time.
Of course, no vaccine is foolproof, but prevention is better than treating HPV-related cancer that develops later in life.
Research has shown that HPV can cause nearly 35,000 cases of cancer in women and men yearly in the United States. The use of the HPV vaccine can prevent more than 32,000 of these cases from ever developing because it can prevent the infections that cause those cancers.
Since the introduction of the HPV vaccine:
- The number of HPV infections and cervical precancers has declined significantly.
- There has been an 86 percent decline among teenage girls in the HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts.
- The percentage of cervical precancers caused by HPV types linked most often to cervical cancer has dropped by 40 percent among women who have received the vaccine.
What are the possible side effects?
Vaccines are medicine, and like all medications, they can cause side effects. Fortunately, many people who get the HPV vaccine do not experience side effects or only very mild ones, such as a sore arm where the shot was administered. The most common side effects of the HPV vaccine, which are usually short-term, are:
- Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site
- Joint or muscle pain
In some cases, young people may experience a brief fainting spell or jerking movements after getting the injection. Resting in a seated or lying position for about 15 minutes after getting the injection can help prevent fainting or falls. Very rarely, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylactic) may occur, which is why it’s important to discuss any allergies you or your child may have with your doctor before getting the vaccine.
Recommended vaccination schedules
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that two doses of the vaccine be administered to 11- to 12-year-olds six to 12 months apart to protect against cancers caused by HPV infections. This two-dose approach can be initiated at age 9 and through age 14.
That is the basic schedule. Here’s the list of other recommendations that allow for a wide variety of situations that fall outside of the basics.
- Teens and young adults who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series should be vaccinated. Females can get the vaccine until they are 27 years old and males can get it until they are 22 years old (with exceptions). The exceptions are:
- Teens and young men who have sex with other men or have a compromised immune system should get the HPV vaccine until they are 27.
- Transgender individuals should get the HPV vaccine until they are 27.
- Teens and young adults who begin the HPV series at ages 15 through 26 years need three doses of the vaccine to be protected.
- Adolescents aged 9 through 14 who received two doses of the vaccine less than five months apart will need a third dose.
- Three doses of the vaccine are recommended for anyone aged 9 through 26 years who has a compromised immune system.
Who Shouldn’t Get the HPV Vaccine?
Anyone who has severe allergies should talk to their doctor before receiving the vaccine. If you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the HPV vaccine (yeast, polysorbate 80, amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate), you also should not get the vaccine.
Experts have determined that children who are mildly ill (e.g., have a low-grade fever of less than 101 degrees or have a cold, cough, or runny nose) can safely get the vaccine. Of course, this is a decision parents can make on their own. Individuals who have a moderate or severe illness should wait until they are recovered to get the vaccine.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reasons to get vaccinated. Accessed 2019 Sept 24
Gardasil® 9. Information about Gardasil® 9. Accessed 2019 Sept 24
National Cancer Institute. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. Accessed 2019 Sept 24