What you need to know about the HPV (Human Papillomavirus Vaccine)

shutterstock_167922080One of the most controversial topics in medicine recently has been the HPV vaccine.  It can save lives by helping prevent cervical cancer but must be given at an early age.

What is HPV?  Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the United States.  More than half of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at some time sin their lives.

About 20 million American are currently infected, and about 6 million more get infected each year.  HPV is usually spread through sexual contact.

Most HPV infections don’t cause any symptoms, and go away on their own.  HPV can cause cervical cancer in women.  Cervical cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths among women around the world.  In the United States, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer every year about 4,000 are expected to die from it.

HPV is also associated with several less common cancers, such as vaginal and vulvar cancers in women, and anal and oropharyngeal (back of the throat, including base of the tongue and tonsils) cancers in both men and women.  HPV can also cause genital warts and warts in the throat.

There is no cure for HPV infection, but some of the problems it causes can be treated.

HPV vaccine: Why get vaccinated?  The HPV vaccine is one of two vaccines that can be given to prevent HPV.  It may be given to both males and females. This vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer in females, if it is given before exposure to the virus.  In addition, it can prevent vaginal and vulvar cancer in females, genital warts and anal cancer in both males and females.  Protection from HPV vaccine is expected to be long-lasting.  Vaccination however is not a substitute for cervical cancer screening.  Women should still get regular Pap tests.

Who should get the HPV vaccine and when?  HPV vaccine is given as a 3-dose series.  The first dose is initially given, with the second dose 1-2 months after the first dose and the final third dose is given 6 months after dose 1. Additional (booster) doses are not recommended.  The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls and boys 11 or 12 years of age.  It may be given starting at age 9.

Why is HPV vaccine recommended at 11 or 12 years of age?  HPV infection is easily acquired, even with only one sex partner.  That is why it is important to get HPV vaccine before any sexual contact takes place.  Also, response to the vaccine is better at this age than at older ages.

Catch-Up Vaccination:  This vaccine is recommended for females ages 13-26 years of age who have not completed the 3-dose series or males 13-21 years old who have not completed the 3-dose series.  This vaccine maybe given to men 22 through 26 years of age who have not completed the 3-dose series. It is recommended for men through age 26 who have sex with men or whose immune system is weakened because of HIV infection, illness or medications.   It may be given at the same time as other vaccines.

Some people should not get HPV vaccine or should wait:  Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of the HPV vaccine, or to a previous dose of HPV vaccine, should not get the vaccine.  Tell your doctor if the patient has any severe allergies, including an allergy to yeast. HPV vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women, however receiving the vaccine when pregnant is not a reason to consider terminating the pregnancy.  Women who are breast feeding may get the vaccine.  Any woman who learns that she is pregnant when she got the vaccine is encourage to contact the manufacturer’s HPV-in-pregnancy registry at 800-986-8999.  This will help us learn more about how pregnant women respond to the vaccine.

What are the risks from this vaccine?  The HPV vaccine has been used in the U.S. and around the world for about six years and has been very safe.  Any medication however could possibly cause a serious problem or severe allergic reaction.  The risk of vaccines causing serious injury or death however is very small.  Life-threatening allergic reactions from vaccines are very rare.  If they do occur, it would happen within a few minutes to hours after the vaccination.  Several mild to moderate problems are known to occur with this vaccine.  These symptoms do not last long and go away on their own.

1)      Reactions in the arm where the shot was given

2)     Pain around the injection site

3)     Redness or swelling around the injection site

4)     Mild fever up to 100 degrees F

5)     Moderate fever up to 102 degrees F

6)     Headache

7)     Fainting during the procedure – usually caused from being nervous

What if there is a moderate or severe reaction – what should I look for?  Any unusual condition such as high fever or behavior changes of the person who received the vaccination.  Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, fast heart rate or dizziness.  If any of these occur, call a medical provider or 911 immediately.

This document is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual patient.  If you have questions please contact your medical provider.


I hope that you have found this information useful.  Wishing you the best of health,

Scott Rennie, DO

Blog: https://doctorrennie.wordpress.com

This information comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


One thought on “What you need to know about the HPV (Human Papillomavirus Vaccine)

  1. Racheal Ninsiima

    Thanks Dr. Rennie. This is truly informative. i am an ardent reader of your blog and love the objectiveness with which you tackle each topic. keep it up.

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