Getting the HPV vaccine could be one of the most proactive steps you can take for your health or the health of someone you love.
In addition to protecting sexually active teens and young adults from contracting the virus, an infection that compromises their health and threatens the future reproductive health of young women, the vaccine also protects both women and men from developing cancer later on.
What is the HPV Vaccine?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an umbrella term describing more than 150 different variations of HPV. More than 14 million people become infected with a variation of HPV every year, the majority of whom are sexually active teens and early 20-somethings. The virus is considered the most common sexually transmitted disease, infecting upwards of one in four sexually active adults.
One of the most difficult things about HPV is that for many, it is asymptomatic – meaning they never know they have it. Others may get gentital warts or experience other symptoms that are so mild they never seek the help of their physician or OB/GYN.
In terms of the vaccine’s efficacy, here are statistics taken directly from the CDC:
- Among teen girls, infections with HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 86 percent.
- Among young adult women, infections with HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 71 percent.
- Among vaccinated women, the percentage of cervical precancers caused by the HPV types most often linked to cervical cancer has dropped by 40 percent.
HPV affects women and men
HPV infections can also lead to longer-term damage to the female reproductive tract, most commonly in the form of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to scarring that compromises a woman’s fertility later on. HPV has also been associated with elevated risk of rectal cancer in adult males who have participated in anal sex without protection.
Unfortunately for women, HPV is also a precursor for cervical cancer. Cervical cancers are often asymptomatic until they pose a greater threat to the patient, and require far more intense and invasive treatment protocols. This is one of the reasons why, in addition to getting the vaccine, routine pap smears are such an essential part of female reproductive healthcare.
You Need the Vaccine If…
Here are the CDC’s guidelines for who needs the HPV vaccine:
You are a female OR male between the ages of 11 and 12
Because HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, the CDC recommends vaccinating boys and girls at age 11 or 12. Some communities advocate for administering the vaccine at age 9, depending on the cultural norms. This can be off putting for parents who can’t imagine their child having a sexual relationship in the sixth-, seventh-, or eight grades.
However, while 17-years-old is the average age for a first sexual encounter in the United States, statistics show that roughly 22% of boys and 15 percent of girls have had sex before the age of 15. Getting the vaccine before a child has their first sexual experience is the best way to protect him/her from contracting HPV and/or spreading it to somebody else.
You are 26-years old or younger and you haven’t had the vaccine
Depending on where you live, the vaccine may or may not be mandatory to attend a public middle school, junior high, or high school. Since these laws are fairly new, there are plenty of teens and young adults who have never been vaccinated.
If you or your child are 26-years-old or younger, and have never been vaccinated, the vaccine is free, and you can contact the office of your local physician or health clinic to learn more about how to schedule your appointment.
You are 27+ and have spoken with a physician or your OB/GYN
While vaccinations are not typically recommended for adults 27-years-old or more, the CDC writes that you, “…may decide to get the vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination.”
Have questions about whether the HPV vaccination makes sense for yourself or your children? Contact us here at OB/GYN Associates of Spokane. We provide comprehensive, reproductive health care for women of all ages.