What You Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine

What You Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine

Almost half of Americans are infected with the virus, finds a new survey.

More than 42 percent of Americans ages 18 to 59 are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a 2013-2014 survey from the National Center for Health Statistics. Among the entire population, 23 percent have high-risk genital HPV, the infection type that significantly increases the risk of cervical, anal and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.

The survey also revealed that the high-risk strains of the virus infected 25.1 percent of men and 20.4 percent of women. Some strains of HPV are considered to be high risk because they can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus and mouth. The HPV strains that cause skin warts around the genitals and anus are considered low-risk because they typically don’t go on to cause cancer.

In general, the survey found that HPV rates were lower among the non-Hispanic Asian population, but higher among non-Hispanic African Americans. 

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., and is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. There’s a vaccine available to prevent HPV and, in turn, the cancers it causes. We talked to Gretchen Homan, MD, a pediatrician with Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, to get the facts about the HPV vaccine.

What cancers are caused by HPV?
Basically, all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. In addition, 91% of anal cancers and 72% of oral cancers are caused by HPV. The virus has also been linked to penile, vaginal and vulvar cancers.

Why is the HPV vaccine so important?
We know these cancers are almost always caused by HPV, so if we can provide a vaccine for it, we’re basically getting rid of all these cancers.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boys and girls receive the two-dose vaccine somewhere between ages 9 and 14. And for those teens starting the vaccination series at 15 or older, a three-dose series is best

What does age have to do with the vaccination?
The vaccine is more effective if we give it earlier—the immune response in the body is stronger when we vaccinate the kids at age 11.

Are there different types of HPV vaccines?
Most doctors in the U.S. are using the 9-valent (Gardasil 9) vaccine since it protects against additional strains of HPV and provides broader coverage.

How safe is the vaccine?
As of 2014, 67 million doses of the quadrivalent vaccine were given and, of those, only a miniscule number of patients experienced any problems. The most common adverse effect is a local reaction; such as pain or redness at the site of the injection. Some patients may feel lightheaded, so we make sure they’ve had something to eat before the vaccine and that they rest afterwards.

How long does the vaccine protection last?
At this point, there are no recommendations for booster doses of the vaccine after you complete the three-dose series.

Are there any other ways to prevent HPV?
The only other way to prevent HPV would be to never have sexual contact. 

The content was published on March 9, 2016.
This content was updated on January 12, 2017 and April 7, 2017. 



Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted disease that can sometimes cause genital warts. Certain types of HPV can also cause cancer in some individuals. Some people never know they have HPV at all, since symptoms arent ...

always noticeable. If you are sexually active, you are at risk for contracting HPV. About 50% of people that have sex acquire HPV in their lifetime, but far less than that will ever develop genital warts. If you are between 9 and 26 and want to reduce your risk of getting HPV, talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccination.