HPV: Understand HPV, The HPV Vaccines, and Common Myths

Reproductive and Sexual Health Series Part 5

HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, is the most sexually transmitted infection in the world. Those infected usually show no symptoms, and the disease is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex.

In most cases, HPV will go away on its own and does not cause any health problems, but it can also cause serious health problems like genital warts and cancer.

“Every year in the United States, HPV is estimated to cause nearly 36,000 cases of cancer in men and women.” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The HPV Vaccine

The HPV vaccine helps protect you against certain strains of HPV that can lead to cancer or genital worth. The vaccine is available to all people ages 9 to 45, but it is recommended that children get the vaccine at age 11 or 12 so they are protected years before they become sexually active.

The HPV vaccine is only effective if given before you are infected with HPV. If you are infected with HPV and then get the vaccine, your existing HPV will not be treated, but you will be protected from other forms of HPV.

Three Common Myths about HPV

Despite the widespread occurrence of HPV, there are many myths surrounding the disease.

1. Only women can get HPV

HPV is common among both men and women. Any person who has close, skin-to-skin contact with another person with an HPV infection can get the infection.

2. You must have sexual intercourse to get HPV

As previously stated, HPV is spread by intimate skin-to-skin contact. While most cases are sexually transmitted, people who haven’t had intercourse are still at risk for becoming infected.

3. If I’ve always used condoms, I’m not at risk for HPV

If used correctly, condoms can be used to prevent STIs that are spread through bodily fluids, but they tend to be less effective against infections that are spread through skin-to-skin contact, since they do not cover the entire genital area during sex.

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