What is HPV?
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a collection of viruses that can result in warts on various parts of the body. Certain strains of HPV can lead to various cancers, including cervical, anal, penile, and specific types of head and neck cancers. But recent studies show that the HPV vaccine might help reduce certain cancers.
High-risk human papillomavirus (hr-HPV) genital infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection among women.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections globally, with millions of new cases each year.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. Nearly 80 million people are infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become newly infected each year.
- About 79% of women will have at least one HPV infection at some point in their lives.
- Most HPV infections go away on their own, but some can persist and lead to health problems, such as cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide. It is estimated that about 570,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer and 311,000 women will die from the disease in 2022.
The prevalence might vary based on public health initiatives, sexual behavior, and vaccination rates. No specific travel restrictions for HPV exist, but travelers should be informed about its general prevalence in their destinations.
HPV Transmission and Risks
HPV spreads via skin-to-skin contact, often during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Even intimate skin-to-skin contact without intercourse can spread the virus.
While anyone sexually active can contract HPV, heightened risk is present for:
- Those with multiple sexual partners.
- Individuals engaging with partners who have had multiple sexual partners.
- People with compromised immune systems.
- Young adults in their late teens and early 20s.
- Those with certain medical conditions, such as HIV or organ transplant recipients.
- Late teens and early 20s are most at risk.
- During pregnancy, warts may grow in number and size.
- A baby can rarely acquire HPV from the mother during birth, leading to respiratory issues or genital warts.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Most HPV carriers exhibit no symptoms. Many carriers show no signs. Some may develop genital warts or warts in the mouth/throat.
However, a fraction might develop genital warts or warts in the mouth or throat. HPV isn’t detectable through standard physical exams but can be diagnosed via Pap tests or genital wart tests. Most infections clear on their own within 1-2 years. Persistent infections, though, can lead to severe conditions. While standard physical exams can’t detect HPV, Pap tests or genital wart tests can. HPV tests identify high-risk types, with results indicating “positive” or “negative.”
Treatment of HPV
Over-the-counter wart treatments aren’t suitable for genital warts. Consultation is required before using any home remedy. No direct cure exists for HPV, but treatments are available for related issues like genital warts and cervical changes.
HPV Vaccine Overview
Gardasil HPV Vaccine Effectiveness
The HPV vaccine is a robust protective measure against HPV infection. Clinical trials have revealed its efficacy: it’s about 90% effective against cervical cancer, 95% against genital warts, and 85% against anal cancer. Notably, it was shown to be 99% effective at preventing cervical cancer in women vaccinated prior to virus exposure.
HPV Vaccine Recommendations
The vaccine is advocated for everyone between 9 and 26 years old. Furthermore, those between 27-45 who haven’t been vaccinated previously are also advised to get it. Ideally, it should be administered before one becomes sexually active.
Gardasil HPV Vaccination Schedule
The HPV vaccine is typically given in 2 or 3 doses, depending on age and specific vaccine type. After the initial dose, subsequent doses follow in intervals of 2 or 6 months.
Types of HPV Vaccines
Two primary HPV vaccines made by Merck & Co. are available in the U.S.:
- Gardasil 9: Protects against nine cancer-causing HPV types. This vaccine protects against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause about 70% of cervical cancers, and types 6 and 11, which cause about 90% of genital warts.
- Gardasil 4: Shields against four HPV strains leading to cancer. This vaccine protects against the same types of HPV as Gardasil, plus types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which cause about 15% of cervical cancers.
Both variants are comparably effective. (Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline protected against HPV types 16 and 18. Cervarix was voluntarily taken off the market in the US in 2016 as it wasn’t being used enough).
HPV Vaccine Safety and Side Effects
Generally, the HPV vaccine is safe with minor side effects that dissipate within days. These may encompass:
- Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site.
Severe side effects are exceedingly rare.
Note: The vaccine doesn’t contain live HPV, so it can’t induce an HPV infection.
Even post-vaccination, there’s a slight risk of contracting HPV. However, the chances of cancer development upon HPV contraction are reduced. Those with severe allergies to vaccine components should avoid it.
Benefits of HPV Vaccine
- Protection from genital warts and various cancers.
- Safeguarding partners from HPV-related diseases.
- Proven safety and efficacy.
Regular screenings and avoiding factors like smoking can mitigate HPV risks.
Additional Protection Measures
Consistent condom use, regular Pap tests, and discussions with healthcare providers about further preventive methods.
- Beyond vaccination, one can:
- Use condoms consistently.
- Undergo regular Pap tests.
- Engage in discussions with healthcare providers about additional protective methods.
If concerned about the potential risks associated with HPV, such as various cancers or genital warts, it’s crucial to discuss these with a healthcare provider.
Queries and Concerns About HPV Vaccine
If in doubt about your HPV vaccination status, or if you experience reactions post-vaccination, it’s imperative to consult your doctor. They can guide you regarding the necessity of vaccination or address any side effects experienced.
Current Research and Future Outlook
Research aims to enhance vaccine effectiveness and understand HPV’s long-term impacts.
Resources, Queries, and Getting Help
Gynecologists or dermatologists are preferred for HPV concerns.
Addressing HPV Vaccine Concerns
For doubts about vaccination status or post-vaccination reactions, consult your physician.