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What is HPV? Explaining the Infection & the Vaccine

Commercials for the HPV vaccine are commonplace these days, but many people don’t know much about the disease itself.

What is HPV?

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., affecting nearly 80 million people, or 1 in every 4.

HPV is usually harmless and goes away by itself, but some types can lead to cervical or other cancers. The number of people in Tennessee who have been diagnosed with an HPV-associated cancer is higher than in most other states, so it’s important to know the facts, especially because there is currently no cure for HPV.

What does the vaccine do?

Gardasil 9 is currently the only HPV vaccine available in the U.S. It has effectively prevented infection and disease caused by 9 HPV types, including 7 that cause cervical and other cancers. The FDA has tested the vaccine and the CDC considers it safe. Side effects may include fainting or, very rarely, anaphylaxis. There are a few categories of people who should avoid it, including people who have previously had life-threatening allergic reactions or are ill.

What age can people get vaccinated?

In general:

  • It’s recommended for women through age 26 and men through age 21.
  • Children as young as 11 or 12 can get vaccinated with 2 shots 6-12 months apart.
  • If your child is older than 14, 3 shots will need to be given over 6 months.
  • Three doses are also recommended for people with compromised immune systems.

How does the vaccine work?

Like any immunization that guards against viral infections, the HPV vaccine stimulates the body to produce antibodies. In future encounters with HPV, those antibodies will prevent HPV from infecting cells.

Why stop at age 26?

“Safety and effectiveness have not yet been studied in adults older than 26, so the HPV vaccine is only recommended for young women through age 26,” says Dr. Edwin Thorpe, an OB-GYN in Memphis, Tenn. Because of the unknowns associated with taking the vaccine past age 26, many doctors advise against it.

What now?

If you or your child falls within the age range of 11-26 for women or 11-21 for men, consider getting vaccinated. If you have questions, talk to your doctor about your options so you can make an informed decision.

Kristine San Mateo

Kristine San Mateo

Kristine San Mateo is a writer who brings stories to life for wellness brands as well as sports teams, coffee, tourism and the automotive industry across the world. She currently resides in Nashville, TN.

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