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HPV Vaccine Information for Parents

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HPV (human papillomavirus) is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and certain cancers. There is a vaccine available to prevent infection from HPV. This vaccine is highly effective in preventing any disease from the virus, including cancer. Please continue reading to learn more about why it is so important for your child to be vaccinated against HPV.

What Is HPV? How does it spread?

As mentioned, HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that can cause genital warts and certain cancers. The virus often causes no symptoms for years and then causes cancer years later. Some studies have found that women infected with high-risk strains of HPV are more likely to develop heart disease and suffer a stroke. 

The virus spreads through any kind of sexual activity (oral, anal, and vaginal) or intimate skin contact (rubbing the genitals together, even without penetration, can transmit the virus from an infected person to their sexual partner).

Why Is the HPV vaccine recommended?

HPV is an extremely common infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all men and women who are sexually active will become infected with this virus during their lifetime. The HPV vaccine can prevent a person from getting infected and from spreading HPV infection. 

HPV-Related Cancers

HPV infections can cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer, mouth and throat cancer.

Genital Warts

Besides cancer prevention, HPV vaccination also protects against genital warts. Although the warts are harmless in most individuals, they look unsightly and can cause embarrassment. Warts can sometimes become very painful and require surgical removal. Also, genital warts can cause problems in people with immune system abnormalities.

It is worth noting that HPV vaccines do not protect against all types of HPV. There are more than 150 known types of this virus. The Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine protects against the most common and dangerous ones: seven types that cause cancer and two types that cause genital warts.

Aren’t condoms enough to protect against sexually transmitted infections?

Sexually active people should always use condoms. However, while condoms reduce the risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases, they don’t completely reduce the risk to zero. This is because HPV can be present in both genital and oral areas. Condoms do not protect the entire genital area, and they do not protect females in same-sex relationships. Therefore, you need both HPV vaccination and safe-sex practices like using condoms for complete protection.

What is the right age to get HPV immunization?

The HPV vaccine (brand name Gardasil 9) is recommended for girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 11 years old. Older kids who are not yet vaccinated can get it too. 

The HPV vaccination schedule is as follows:

  • Children ages 9–14 get 2 shots over a period of 6-12 months.
  • Older kids and young adults (ages 15–26) get 3 shots over a period of 6 months. 

This is because pre-teens generate a better immune response, whereas older people need three doses to make enough antibodies for adequate protection against HPV. 

The vaccine works best if a person gets vaccinated before being exposed to the virus. Therefore, parents should talk to their child’s doctor about vaccinating at around age 9 to 11. Delaying the vaccination may mean that a teenager eager to have sex will not wait 6-12 months to receive the additional dose(s) and become completely immunized against HPV. 

What are the possible risks of the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is very safe. Since 2006, more than 270 million doses have been given worldwide without any serious side effects. However, minor side effects like mild fever, swelling, redness, and pain at the injection site are common. Some people experience fainting, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting following an HPV shot. Allergic reactions are rare. Check with your doctor if it is okay to give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever after an HPV shot. 

Should I let my son have the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine was initially approved in 2006 for females to protect from cervical cancer. Later, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for males because it was found that cancers caused by HPV can occur in both men and women. Moreover, cervical cancer can be caught early by screening tests; however, this is not true for other types of HPV-related cancers that can occur in men. It is worth remembering that most HPV infections do not cause symptoms. Meaning, people are not aware they are infected and can unknowingly spread the infection to sexual partners. 

My child is not sexually active. Do they need HPV vaccination?

Some parents are hesitant to immunize their children against HPV, which is a sexually transmitted infection, due to concerns that vaccination will support or encourage youth to engage in sexual activity. For some parents, the HPV vaccine is an uncomfortable reminder that their child is moving towards adulthood and becoming sexually active. The truth is that children who get the HPV vaccine don’t have sex any earlier or engage in any more risky sexual behaviors compared to teens who aren’t vaccinated. If you still have concerns about the HPV vaccine, ask your child’s doctor for more information.

When to avoid the HPV vaccine?

You should delay HPV immunization if your child is sick (minor illnesses such as the common cold don’t count). This vaccine is not recommended in kids who have a yeast allergy or kids who had a serious allergic reaction after the first dose of the HPV vaccine. Pregnant girls or women should wait until after they have given birth and then get vaccinated.

Should I tell my parents I have HPV?

It is entirely your decision who you tell about an HPV infection. You should know that there is no way to tell when you got infected or who gave the infection to you. You can have HPV for many years without any symptoms. In 95% of people, an HPV infection does not need to be treated--the body’s immune system clears it on its own. With that said, if you have been found to have an HPV infection, you should disclose it before sexual contact. 

Is HPV contagious for life?

In most people, HPV clears within 1-2 years. Once the immune system has fought off the virus, it disappears and cannot be transmitted to sexual partners. 
 

References:

  1. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/prevention-and-screening-articles/the-hpv-vaccine-what-parents-need-to-know
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stats.htm