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September 17, 2019

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Weekend doctor: HPV vaccine

By Allison Westcott, MD
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection. Over 14 million new cases occur in the U.S. yearly, although most people do not know that they have been affected. This infection can lead to genital warts or certain types of cancer, with the most common being cervical. Also included are vulvar, anal, penile, and cancers of the head and neck.

HPV is spread through direct skin-to-skin contact and sexual contact. Most sexually active men and women will contract the HPV virus at some point in their lives. While there is no cure for the HPV virus, there are effective vaccines available for prevention.

The symptoms of HPV can be treated through the Gardasil vaccine. The Gardasil 9 vaccine protects against nine different HPV types. These nine types of HPV cause cancer and warts.

In October of 2018, the Gardasil 9 vaccine had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people of the ages of 9 to 45 years, opening a wider range of opportunity for people to receive the vaccine. There is a three-dose schedule that can be completed within six months. Because of their immune systems, adolescents only need two doses prior to the age of 15.

The best practice for receiving the vaccine is to begin routine vaccinations at the ages of 11-12 for both males and females. The HPV vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy, although it does not appear harmful to the fetus. It is recommended during postpartum and is safe for those breastfeeding.

The Gardasil 9 vaccine is 88% effective in preventing persistent HPV infection, genital warts, vulvar/vaginal pre-cancer, cervical pre-cancer and cervical cancer. If an HPV infection is persistent past the age of 30, there is a greater risk of developing cervical cancer. HPV infections that cause most cancers and genital warts have dropped 71% amongst teen girls that have received the vaccine. Prevention is always better than treating after the fact. High HPV vaccination rates would reduce or even eradicate HPV disease and cancers dramatically.

The HPV vaccine is 100% effective preventing HPV, 60% successful in reduction of genital warts, 50% effective in reduction of vulvar/vaginal cancer, and 20% successful in reducing high-risk cervical lesions. However, not being vaccinated against HPV is 0% effective.