Most vaccinations that are administered during childhood are done so to keep youngsters healthy. The relatively new human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is a little different. It is intended to protect adult health and it is important that parents consider getting their children immunized.
How Do You Get HPV?
HPV is spread through sexual contact. The virus can cause a wide variety of life-threatening cancers (and less serious but highly contagious genital warts).
HPV Can Cause:
- Cervical cancer in women
- Vulvar and vaginal cancer in women
- Anal cancer in women and men
- Oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils) in women and men
- Penile cancer in men
- Genital warts in women and men
How Common Is HPV?
About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year.
At least half of all people who have had sex will have HPV at some time in their lives.
You’re more likely to get HPV if you:
- Have sex at an early age
- Have many sexual partners
- Have a sexual partner who has had multiple partners
There are more than 40 strains of HPV. The virus is so common that at least half of all sexually active women and men will be infected at some point during their lives. Most of the time, they don’t have any symptoms and the infection clears up on its own. During this time, however, they are contagious and can unknowingly pass the virus on to someone else. In other cases, these symptomless infections can persist, with serious health problems such as cervical cancer developing years later.
The HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine, a series of three shots that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend be given over six months when a child is between the ages of 11-12, can prevent transmission of the virus from one person to another. When administered during the preteen years, the HPV vaccine gives children time to build up an immune response before they become sexually active. The vaccine does not treat existing HPV infections.
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccination?
The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for:
- Preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years
- Males through age 21 and females through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger
- Gay and bisexual men through age 26
- Men and women with compromised immune systems (including HIV/AIDS) through age 26 if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger
Just as they are with other childhood immunizations, parents should make sure their children are vaccinated for HPV at the appropriate time. Questions about HPV and other immunizations should be discussed with your child’s health care provider.
This chart shows the recommended vaccines for children and when they should be administered.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]