Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted disease that is passed through skin-to-skin contact. HPV is primarily spread through sexual intercourse, but it can be spread through any sexual contact. Since many people with HPV do not develop symptoms or health problems from the virus, individuals do not always know they are infected with HPV. In many cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years of infection.
There are over 100 different types of HPV. Approximately 40 of the types infect the genital areas of men and women. Approximately 12 types of HPV are known to cause genital warts and approximately 15 types are linked to cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina and penis.
Since HPV is so common, it is important for both women and men to take preventative measures to minimize their risk of infection. Individuals can help reduce the risk of infection by limiting his or her number of sexual partners, using condoms during sexual intercourse and getting vaccinated.
Gardasil, a vaccine that is approved for females and males ages nine to 26, protects against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Virginia Women’s Center was the only research site in the Richmond area involved in the clinical trial leading to the approval of the Gardasil vaccine in 2006. In females, Gardasil helps protect against the two types of HPV that cause about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and two additional types that cause 90 percent of genital warts cases. In males, Gardasil helps protect against 90 percent of genital warts cases.
Gardasil is ideally given to patients before they become sexually active. The vaccine is given in three shots over a period of six months. Routine vaccination is recommended for boys and girls at age 11-12. However, it is also recommended for older teens and young adults who were not vaccinated when younger.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in June 2013 that a new study shows that HPV in young women (ages 14 to 19) has declined by more than half since the vaccine was introduced in 2006. This is encouraging news despite the fact that only one-third of eligible patients have received all three doses of the vaccine. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC said of the results, “They should be a wake-up call that we need to increase vaccination rates. The bottom line is this: It is possible to protect the next generation from cancer, and we need to do it.”
To learn more about Gardasil, visit our Web site or speak with your health care provider.