HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is among the most common sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. It is so common, in fact, that nearly all sexually active men and women will carry the virus at some point in their lifetimes. Many of the strains of HPV are removed by the body’s immune system, but others are more dangerous and can cause health problems over time.
HPV Symptoms & Cancer
HPV doesn’t always cause symptoms, but even if there are no symptoms, the carrier of the virus can still pass it on to someone else. The dangerous strands of HPV can cause cervical cancer as well as anal cancer, penile cancer, vaginal cancer and mouth and throat cancer over time.
Results of Immunization
About 10 years ago, the CDC started recommending that pre-teen girls get vaccinated against HPV due to its prevalence and ability to cause cancer. Healthcare providers didn’t start pushing to have boys vaccinated until about 2011. Today the CDC recommends that both boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 get vaccinated. The vaccine was first introduced about a decade ago, and recently, research published in the journal Pediatrics indicated that prevalence of the virus drastically decreased within just a 6-year period. After comparing different age groups of girls in 2003-2006 (pre-vaccine) and then again in 2012, researchers found that after the vaccine was implemented, the prevalence of HPV had decreased by 64% in girls aged 14-19 and by 34% in women aged 20-24.
In countries where the HPV vaccine was mandatory or offered in schools, the prevalence of the virus decreased even more proving the effectiveness of the vaccine. In Australia, for example, the occurrence of genital warts in girls under the age of 21 decreased by 92%. In the U.S., immunization rates are still low. Less than half of girls and only 20% of boys between the ages of 13 and 17 have had the vaccine. Many healthcare providers still do not suggest the vaccine to parents with children that are the right age because some parents are not comfortable with vaccinating their pre-teen children against an STD. However, the HPV vaccine does more than just protect against an STD, it prevents certain types of cancer, and that is an easier discussion for some.
Types of HPV Vaccines
The types of HPV vaccines available are Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix. Cervarix is not common because it only protects against two strains of HPV, while Gardasil protects against four. Gardasil 9, the newer vaccine, protects against 9 different strains of HPV that can cause genital warts and precancerous lesions.
Gardasil 9 Vaccine
If my child is older than 11 or 12, is it too late to get the HPV vaccine?
No, it is absolutely not too late. The HPV vaccine is approved for women 26 and under and men 21 and under. It is recommended that the vaccine is started at age 11 or 12 not only to ensure the child is immunized before any type of sexual activity begins, but also because the immune system is stronger at this age and the vaccine is the most effective. However, if a person has already been exposed to these strains of the virus, the injection will not be effective. Immunization requires 3 injections given over a 6-month period.