HPV is short for human papillomavirus.
HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. Some types of HPV can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers, but there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening.
Q How is HPV spread?+
You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex and can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have only had one partner. You can also develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.
Q Does HPV cause health problems?+
In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But, when HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts and cancer.
Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped like a cauliflower. A health care provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.
Q Does HPV cause cancer?+
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).
Q How can I avoid HPV and the health problems it can cause?+
You can do several things to lower your chances of getting HPV:
- Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups.
- Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening should begin at age 21 to prevent cervical cancer.
- If you are sexually active, use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV; however, HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom.
- If you are sexually active, be in a mutually monogamous relationship – or have sex only with someone who only has sex with you.
Q Who should get vaccinated?+
All children ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated.
Catch-up vaccines are recommended for boys and men through age 21 and for girls and women through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
HPV vaccine is also recommended for the following people, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger:
- Young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men through age 26
- Young adults who are transgender through age 26
- Young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26
Q Why is HPV vaccine recommended at age 11 or 12 years?+
For HPV vaccine to be most effective, the series should be given prior to exposure to HPV. Preteens should receive all recommended doses of the HPV vaccine series long before they begin any type of sexual activity.
Q What are the possible side effects of HPV vaccination?+
Many people who get HPV vaccine have no side effects but some report having very mild side effects, like a sore arm.
Common side effects of HPV vaccine include:
- Pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
- Headache or feeling tired
- Muscle or joint pain
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