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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccine: What You Need to Know

1. What is HPV?

Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. 

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There are about 40 types of HPV. About 20 million people in the U.S. are infected, and about 6.2 million more get infected each year. HPV is spread through sexual contact.

Most HPV infections don’t cause any symptoms, and go away on their own. But HPV is important mainly because it can cause cervical cancer in women. Every year in the U.S. about 10,000 women get cervical cancer and 3,700 die from it. It is the 2nd leading cause of cancer deaths among women around the world. 

HPV is also associated with several less common types of cancer in both men and women. It can also cause genital warts and warts in the upper respiratory tract.

More than 50% of sexually active men and women are infected with HPV at sometime in their lives.

There is no treatment for HPV infection, but the conditions it causes can be treated.

2. HPV vaccine. Why get vaccinated?

HPV vaccine is an inactivated (not live) vaccine which protects against four major types of HPV. 

These include two types that cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two types that cause about 90% of genital warts. HPV vaccine can prevent most genital warts and most cases of cervical cancer.

Protection from HPV vaccine is expected to be long-lasting. But vaccinated women still need cervical cancer screening because the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types that cause cervical cancer.

3. Who should get HPV vaccine and when?

Routine Vaccination

  • HPV vaccine is routinely recommended for girls 11 and 12 years of age.  Doctors may give it to girls as young as 9 years
  • The HPV4 vaccine (the type recommended for prevention of genital warts in girls) may also be given in three doses to boys aged 9 to 26.

Why is HPV vaccine given to girls at this age?

It is important for girls to get HPV vaccine before their first sexual contact -- because they have not been exposed to HPV.  For these girls, the vaccine can prevent almost 100% of disease caused by the four types of HPV targeted by the vaccine.

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