What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus (also known as HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. There are many different types of HPV. In most cases, HPV will clear up and go away on its own. When HPV does not go away, it can cause other health problems like genital warts and certain cancers.

HPV is spread from person to person through sexual contact. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex, but it can also be spread through oral sex or through close and intimate skin-to-skin touching.

What are the symptoms and complications of HPV?

Most people do not know they are infected with HPV because they may never develop symptoms or other health problems. Some people will first discover they have HPV when they develop genital warts.

Women may find out they have HPV after having an abnormal Pap smear during a routine yearly examination. Other people may only find out they have HPV after developing other serious problems like certain cancers.

HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus and back of the throat.

How can I lower my risk of getting HPV and HPV-related health problems?

There is no cure for HPV, and the best way to protect yourself and your child against HPV is through vaccination. HPV is so common that almost everyone who is sexually active will get HPV at some point if they are not vaccinated.

There are additional ways you can lower your chances of getting HPV:

  • Abstain from sex
  • Limit your number of sexual partners
  • Be in a mutually monogamous relationship, where your partner does not have additional sexual partners
  • Use condoms correctly (this adds protection, but condoms do not fully protect against HPV)
  • Get routine cancer screenings

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination for:

  • All preteen boys and girls at 11 or 12 years of age (can start as early as 9 years of age) – should get two doses given six to 12 months apart
  • Children who start the vaccination series after their 15th birthday need three doses given over six months
  • Everyone through 26 years of age, if not vaccinated already

Vaccination is not generally recommended for adults older than 26 years of age. Talk with your child’s doctor about the best strategy for vaccination.

Is the HPV vaccine safe for my child?

The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and the protection it provides remains high for a long time. It can protect against diseases caused by HPV and has the potential to prevent more than 90 percent of cancers related to HPV.

The HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006. Since then, HPV types that cause cancers and genital warts has dropped 88 percent among teen girls and 81 percent among young adult women. Fewer women are developing abnormal cells on the cervix that lead to cervical cancer. These are all signs of the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine.

Most people who get the HPV vaccine do not have any side effects. The most common side effects experienced from the HPV vaccine are usually mild and include:

  • Pain or redness at the site of the injection
  • Fever
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Headache or fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Muscle or joint pain