Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, with more than 6.2 million cases a year. There are more than 100 strains of HPV and more than 30 of these strains can infect the genitals, and some strains are associated with cervical cancer and genital warts. In June 2006 a new vaccine was produced by Merck called Gardasil that protects against certain strains of HPV and is recommended for women and girls ages 9 to 26. Since then, there have been many questions about HPV, so I thought I would cover a few of the commonly asked questions in this post.
How is HPV prevented? HPV cannot be protected against, but condoms can help. Gardasil prevents infection of four strains of HPV that are associated with 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts cases. The vaccine will not cure HPV if the person is already infected.
Who should get the HPV vaccine? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all girls ages 11 and 12, before they are sexually active, or all women between 9 and 26 receive the vaccine. In clinical trials the vaccine seemed to work better for girls between the ages of 10 and 15 compared to people over 16. The vaccine is given in a series of three shots and costs about $360, although most insurance companies cover it.
How is HPV transmitted? HPV can be transmitted through genital contact, even without intercourse.
How do you know if you have HPV? Like many other STIs, sometimes there are no symptoms. The Papanicolaou (Pap) test detects changes in cervical tissue, and is a major tool in screening for early identification of cervical cancer. The Pap test is completed by a medical provider by taking a swab of the cervical tissue. Women should get a Pap test done when they become sexually active and then at least every three years, more often if they are having unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners.
Some districts and states are requiring the HPV, but as of yet, there are no federal laws requiring it.