Human papillomavirus HPV is a virus that can cause genital warts, anal cancer, and cervical cancer. It is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that girls and boys aged 11-12 years old be vaccinated against HPV. Boys can be vaccinated using the vaccine that protects against four strains of HPV called Gardasil. Girls can be vaccinated with either Gardasil, or a different vaccine that protects against two HPV strains called Cervarix. This article focuses on Gardasil.
Gardasil is the first vaccine designed to prevent both genital warts and cervical cancer caused by HPV. The vaccine is a product of genetic engineering and is considered safe. Gardasil does not contain HPV. Rather, it uses a harmless viral protein to stimulate the immune system and create resistance against the virus. It is, therefore, not possible to become infected with HPV from the vaccine.
Gardasil is recommended for girls and boys as a 3-dose series between 11-12 years old. For the vaccine to be most effective, adolescents should complete the series before their first sexual contact in order to have time for an immune response to develop. The vaccine may be given starting at nine years old.
If you did not receive the vaccine when you were younger, recommendations for the HPV vaccine series include:
- Girls and women aged 13-26 years old, especially those with a suppressed immune system
- Boys and men aged 13-21 years old
- Men aged 22-26 years old if they are gay, bisexual, or have a suppressed immune system
Although it is not recommended, men aged 22-26 years old can also get the vaccine.
What Else Should I Know About Gardasil?
Gardasil is not a treatment, but a prevention measure. The vaccine will not help those who already have HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. However, most people do not contract all four at the same time, so the immunization would still be recommended as a preventive measure against the HPV types that a woman or man does not have.
Also, Gardasil does not prevent infection with the other HPV types that are not contained in the vaccine. Therefore, the vaccine does not replace the need for routine Pap smears to screen for cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition) and cancer in women. Women and girls severely allergic to yeast should not be immunized with Gardasil. Also, the product is not recommended for pregnant women.
More on HPV
The HPV lives on the skin or mucous membranes of infected people. There are often no symptoms of HPV and many cases go away on their own. Although the body’s immune system is often effective in getting rid of many types of HPV, other types of HPV can cause genital warts and, more seriously, cervical cancer. Fortunately, the vast majority of HPV infections do not lead to cervical cancer.
The transmission rate of HPV is high because most people who are infected do not know that they have HPV and, therefore, do not take necessary precautions. Even more importantly, HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and not via blood or bodily fluids, like most other STDs. Anyone who has ever been sexually active has the risk of getting and passing on HPV. Because there are no symptoms, a person can have HPV for years and not know they are transmitting it. Condoms are not entirely effective in preventing HPV infection because areas that are not covered may be infected. However, using latex condoms has been associated with a lower rate of HPV infection in women.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 10/2013 -
- Update Date: 10/02/2013 -