What Is Human Papillomavirus?
Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of more than 100 viruses.
Certain types of HPV can cause genital warts, which are growths or bumps that appear:
- On the vulva
- In or around the vagina or anus
- On the cervix
- On the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh
HPV is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner.
Many people will be exposed to a form of HPV at some point in their lives. Not all will become infected or develop symptoms.
What Is the HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine contains virus-like particles that are not infectious. These particles produce antibodies to prevent HPV from infecting cells. The vaccine is given by injection into the muscle.
The vaccine protects against 9 types of HPV strains. It may be used to prevent the following conditions:
- Genital warts
- Precancerous lesions on the genitals (in women)
- Cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and anus
Who Should Be Vaccinated and When?
The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys between 11-12 years old (2 doses at least 6 months apart). For the vaccine to be most effective, adolescents should complete the series before their first sexual contact in order to have time for an immune response to develop. The vaccine may be given starting at 9 years old.
Other recommendations for the HPV vaccine series include:
- Girls and women aged 13-26 years old, especially those with a suppressed immune system.
- Boys and men aged 13-21 years old
- Men aged 22-26 years old if they are gay, bisexual, or have a suppressed immune system
- Transgender persons aged 22-26 years old
A 3-shot series is given in those with a suppressed immune system or if the vaccine is started at age 15 or older.
The vaccine is recommended to children starting at age 9 who have a history of sexual abuse.
What Are the Risks Associated With the HPV Vaccine?
Research suggests that the vaccine does not appear to cause any serious side effects. Like any vaccine, it has the potential to cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction.
Some problems have been associated with the HPV vaccines, like pain, redness, swelling, or itching at the injection site. Other potential side effects include:
- Mild to moderate fever
- Rarely, severe shoulder pain
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?
Do not get the vaccine if you:
- Had a life-threatening allergic reaction to yeast or any other component of the vaccine.
- Are or may be pregnant.
- Are moderately or severely ill. Wait until you have recovered.
What Other Ways Can HPV Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?
Avoiding physical contact with an infected sexual partner is the only way to completely prevent the spread of a genital HPV infection. Latex condoms may help reduce the spread. However, condoms are not 100% effective because they do not cover the entire genital area.
Other preventive measures include:
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 14 million people become infected with sexually transmitted HPV each year. HPV vaccines cannot treat infections that already exist. The best way to prevent further spread of the disease is to get the vaccine before becoming infected.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD
- Review Date: 05/2017 -
- Update Date: 05/23/2017 -