HPV, or human papillomavirus, is one of the most common STIs experienced by sexually active people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s estimated that as many as 79 million Americans are currently infected and approximately 14 new infections occur each year. 1 HPV can be harmless and go away on its own; however, some types of HPV can lead to genital warts or cervical cancer if left untreated.
Choices Women’s Medical Center offers all women, regardless of their culture, nationality, gender identity, or age, a wide range of reproductive health services. Health education, as well as abortion services up to 24 weeks, a complete prenatal program, and a full range of gynecological testing and treatment of STIs and STDs, are all offered from its Jamaica, New York location.
How HPV Is Contracted
HPV only requires sexual skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus in order to contract it yourself. Only contact with the infected person’s anus, penis, cervix, vagina, or vulva is required to place you at risk.
One of the reasons HPV is such a commonly-diagnosed virus is because most patients will never exhibit any symptoms until other health problems have developed.
Health Problems Related to HPV
Human papillomavirus can cause genital warts and cervical cancer.
Genital warts can occur approximately 3 months or more following being infected with the virus. Characterized by bumps that are small, hard, and painless, genital warts can be in the following areas:
- In the mouth
- Inside and around the anus
- Inside and around the penis or vagina
Women’s Health Centers in Long Island can remove genital warts with laser or freezing treatments or via the application of a topical treatment. There is no cure for genital warts, which can return following removal.
Cervical cancer caused by HPV affects approximately 17,600 women and 9,300 men in the United States each year.2 When treated early enough, the precursors to cervical cancer, such as abnormal cervical cells, can be eliminated. However, the key to early detection is to ensure regular Pap tests and checkups.
What Is the HPV Vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is available in three types: Cervarix, Gardasil 9, and Gardasil. All of them aim to protect against the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Cervarix is said to provide nearly 100% protection against HPV 16 and 18, which are responsible for up to 70% of cervical cancers.
Both Gardasil and Gardasil 9 aim to protect against HPV. Gardasil is said to protect both women and men from 4 types of HPV virus that can cause up to 90% of anal cancers and genital warts.
The vaccine has also been shown to assist with protection against vulvar and vaginal cancers, as well as the formation of precancerous cervical cells.
Some parents considering the vaccine for their children are uncomfortable with it, often because of the fact that it is administered for the purpose of preventing a sexually transmitted infection. However, giving the HPV vaccine does not place children at risk of having sex at an earlier age.
Who Can Get the HPV Vaccine?
Gardasil can be administered to male and females between the ages of 9 and 26. This vaccine is administered in 3 doses over a period of 6 months.
For children, vaccination at age 11 or 12, before they are sexually active, is recommended. For children of this age, two shots of the vaccine are administered 6 to 12 months apart.3
Are There Any Risks to Taking the Vaccine?
As with most medications, the HPV vaccine does have risks. Although it appeared to be safe during clinical trials and real-world use, the government received nearly 25,000 reports of side effects between 2006 and 2014.
Mild side effects include low-grade fever following injection (experienced by 1 in 10 people), itching at the site of injection (experienced by 1 in 30 people), and moderate fever (experienced by 1 in 60 people).
There are more moderate side effects from the HPV vaccine, which include arm pain, nausea, and headache. Adverse effects resulting from HPV vaccine risks often go unreported but include chronic fatigue syndrome, blood clots, seizures, and death. However, according to reports by public health, academic, and government investigators, the HPV vaccine could not be identified as the cause of these serious side effects.
The HPV Vaccine Does Not Treat HPV
The HPV vaccine is meant to protect against getting the infection. If you already have HPV, getting the vaccine will not treat it, although it can prevent you from becoming infected by other types of the virus. Speaking to your medical professional can help you learn more about the tests and treatment options that are available.
A common myth is that if you’ve received the HPV vaccine, then you can discontinue HPV or Pap tests. As stated previously, the vaccine doesn’t protect from all forms of cancer-causing HPV. Therefore, getting tested is a good way to detect any symptoms of possible infection from other HPV types.
Cost of the HPV Vaccine
The average cost of the HPV vaccine is approximately $170 per dose or around $500 for the full course of shots.5 If you carry health insurance, the HPV vaccine is likely to be covered. If you’ve decided to get the vaccine but don’t have insurance, programs are available to get it for a lower cost or no cost.
HPV and STI Protection Without the Vaccine
If you are unsure about whether the HPV vaccine is for you, there are other ways to protect yourself. If you are not yet sexually active, women’s health centers in New York advise you to protect yourself by avoiding all sexual contact, including anal, oral, or vaginal.
If you are sexually active, you may already have one or more types of HPV. However, it’s important to get tested to identify which type/s you have, as several types of HPV exist. That being said, if infected, you can protect yourself from getting HPV and prevent others from becoming infected by you.
Both male and female condoms are a very effective way to prevent the spread of all STIs, and they are very effective at lowering the risk of contracting HPV. A condom should be used when having anal or vaginal sex, as well as when having oral sex.
A dental dam, like a condom, is a barrier method which prevents the transmission of STIs via oral sex. Made of latex or silicone, a dental dam is thin and square in shape. Before oral sex, the dental dam is placed over the labia or anus. Where a dental dam is not available, a non-microwaveable plastic wrap can be used.
Other Sexual Activities
There are many types of sexual activity which don’t involve skin-to-skin genital contact. “Outercourse,” for example, which is defined as sexual activity that doesn’t involve penetration, can include anything from kissing to mutual masturbation. These activities can allow for intimacy without the risk of spreading HPV.
Avoiding Risky Situations
Another method of prevention is to ensure you’re not in situations that place you at risk. New York women’s health centers warn that using drugs or drinking too much alcohol can affect your ability to make sound decisions, as well as cause you to lower your inhibitions. Both drinking and drug use can cause you to place less importance on safe sex, which can increase your risk of becoming infected with HPV and other STIs.
Being Honest with Your Partners
Honesty is always the best policy if you have an STI. If you are going to have sex with your partner and know you have HPV, be honest with them before you have sex for the first time. This will allow both of you to formulate a plan for safe and enjoyable sex without the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
The Benefits of Choosing the Right Health Center
Choices Women’s Medical Center offers all manner of HPV vaccine education and administration to women. Our care is non-judgmental, compassionate, and truthful, and our patients enjoy same-day and walk-in appointments. Call us for more information about your HPV vaccination and treatment options at (718) 786-5000, or visit https://www.choicesmedical.com for more information.