HPV and Prevention: Vaccines and Condoms

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted viruses. High-risk HPV infections are spread simply by having unprotected sexual intercourse. The risk of contracting high-risk HPV infection increases with the number of sexual partners. Persons with recent new partners have a greater risk of contracting HPV, compared to persons that have been in a long-term relationship. Signs/symptoms of high-risk HPV include abnormal pap smears.  Individuals may contract the virus at some point in their lives but may have no signs or symptoms of the infection.  Because these signs/symptoms of high-risk HPV (abnormal pap smear) could occur months or years after being initially infected, it is difficult to determine when the initial exposure occurred. It is possible to clear the virus if the immune system is not suppressed. Younger individuals (age 21-24) have the greatest chance of clearance. If high-risk HPV infection persists, the virus could cause changes in the cervical cells, which could eventually lead to cervical cancer. Consistent condom use can prevent the transmission of high-risk HPV. In addition, the HPV vaccine helps to prevent high-risk HPV infection by providing immunity to several strains of high-risk HPV.  It is recommended that females get this vaccine at age 11 to 12 years of age, or as early as age 9. Females that did not receive the vaccine as a child can still get the vaccine until age 26. Because high-risk HPV is also associated with penile cancer, the vaccine is also recommended for all males from age 9 to age 21. For males ages 22-26, the HPV vaccine is recommended only if they have sex with other men or have HIV or a suppressed immune system. The HPV vaccine can be received at many physician offices or your local health department.

Author
Kirstie Cunningham, MD, FACOG President, Metro Health and Wellness, LLC

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