If you are considering the HPV vaccine for your teen or preteen, understanding the benefits of this vaccination can help relieve some concern. This vaccine is injected in three separate doses and is used to prevent your child from contracting human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is approved for girls and boys ages 9 to 25 or 26, depending on the product.
You’ve undoubtedly heard about HPV and, if you have a teenage or preteen child, the recommendations for getting your child vaccinated against it. However, if you’re like many people, you may have quite a few unanswered questions about what those three letters really mean. So, what exactly is HPV?
HPV is an abbreviation for human papillomavirus, a virus that can infect the skin and moist surfaces of the body. There isn’t just one strain of HPV -- this virus has over 100 different types. Of those, about 40 types can cause genital infections and can also infect the mouth and throat.
HPV gets its name from the fact that some types of the virus cause warts, which are known medically as papillomas. The strains of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the strains that cause the common skin warts some people get on their hands and feet.
HPV is spread from person to person through direct skin-to-skin contact. This makes it easy to pass during sexual activity from vaginal, anal, or oral contact. In fact, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. The majority of people who are sexually active will become infected with it at some point in their lives.
What makes HPV especially problematic is that it doesn’t always cause symptoms. This means you can be infected without even knowing it. It also means you won’t be able to tell if your partner is infected. And you don’t need to have symptoms to spread the virus.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Atkinson W, Wolfe S, Hamborsky J, eds. 12th ed., second printing. Washington DC: Public Health Foundation, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HPV infection -- fact sheet (March 18, 2013). CDC Web site. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm. Accessed July 23, 2013.
National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. HPV and cancer (March 15, 2012). NCI Web site. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/HPV. Accessed July 23, 2013.
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