HPV is short for human papillomavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV can lead to genital warts and even cancer. But, there is a vaccine to help prevent the infections that most commonly cause cancer. Steve Rinderknecht, DO, UnityPoint Health, explains four fast facts of HPV.
1. Viruses Can Trigger Cancers
“I think the public gets confused on germs, viruses, bacteria and all of those kinds of things,” Dr. Rinderknecht says. “I don’t think the majority of people know some viruses trigger certain cancers.”
According to the CDC, HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses. A subset of those viruses can lead to cancers including cervical, vulva, vagina, penis or anus. It’s the main reason why to get the HPV vaccine.
2. HPV is Very Common
The CDC says HPV is so common that all sexually active people get it at some point in their lives.
“Your body usually takes care of this virus once you’re infected and gets rid of it, but there’s a small subset of viruses, primarily those that cause cancer, that the body does not get rid of and those are the ones that we focus on with the vaccine,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
3. Ideal HPV Vaccine Age is 11 or 12
If you are wondering when to get the HPV vaccine, Dr. Rinderknecht says eleven or 12-years-old is the ideal age for HPV vaccine for both boys and girls. Dr. Rinderknecht says it’s best to get this shot young, before becoming sexually active, in order to protect a child’s future.
“The younger you are, the more effective the vaccine is. In fact, it’s so much more effective when you’re young, that if you wait until 15 years or older, the HPV vaccine schedule is upped to three doses. If you get it starting at 11 or 12, the HPV vaccine schedule includes only two doses. The two doses at 11 or 12, works better than three doses later. So, if you want to see the maximum benefits of the HPV vaccine, get it when it’s most effective,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
While the HPV vaccine recommended age is 11 or 12, it’s still accessible for years afterwards. The CDC recommends the vaccine for young women through age 26 and young men through age 21.
4. Use Reliable Resources for Research
Ask your provider any questions about HPV vaccine recommendations and where you can find reliable resources online. Dr. Rinderknecht says there has never been a substantiated long-term side effect from this vaccine. He says false information has led to a plateau in the rate of adolescence getting the HPV vaccine.
“I’ve talked to medical partners of mine who have seen people with these cancers, and they’re bad, this is not good stuff. If we can do something at a younger age to prevent those devastating diseases, I can’t understand why we wouldn’t do it,” Dr. Rinderknecht says.
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