Human Papillomavirus

  • The following information is being provided to you at the direction of the Washington State Legislature to help reduce cervical cancer rates in Washington by protecting students from human papillomavirus.

    WHAT IS HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS (HPV)? HPV is a very common virus that is spread through genital contact. There are many types of HPV. Most are harmless and do not cause infections or symptoms. However, some types of HPV can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in females while other types can cause anal, neck, and head cancers in both males and females. Other types of HPV can also cause genital warts in both males and females.

    WHO CAN GET HPV? In the United States, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some point in their lives. Both women and men can get HPV and spread it to others without realizing they have the virus. HPV infection is most common in women and men in their late teens and early 20s.

    HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE HPV? Most people with HPV have no signs or symptoms. Some people know they have HPV because they have a symptom such as genital warts. Women may find out they have HPV through cervical cancer screening (Pap tests) and HPV antibody testing. Health care providers do not usually test for HPV unless abnormal cervical cell changes are detected by a Pap test.

    HOW DOES HPV CAUSE CERVICAL CANCER? Most HPV infections clear up on their own, but some types of HPV can infect cells in the cervix (the opening to the uterus or womb) and cause changes. If the infection continues untreated, these changes can lead to cervical cancer. Pap tests can detect cell changes long before cervical cancer develops. Women who get the HPV vaccine should continue getting Pap tests.

    HOW CAN HPV INFECTION BE PREVENTED? The best way to prevent HPV infection is to abstain from all sexual activity. People with only one lifetime partner can get HPV if their partner had previous sexual partners. Using condoms during sex offers good protection against sexual infections such as HPV. The HPV vaccines offer by far the best protection if given before sexual activity starts, but do not get rid of existing HPV infections and do not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.

    WHAT IS THE HPV VACCINE? The HPV vaccine can prevent infections from some of the most common and serious types of HPV that cause genital warts and cervical and anal cancers. Two HPV vaccines are available. HPV4 is licensed for males and females and protects against four types of HPV, including two types that cause 75 percent of cervical cancers in women and most anal cancers in men, and two types that cause 90 percent of genital warts in both women and men. HPV2 is licensed only for females and protects against two types of HPV that cause 75 percent of cervical cancers.

    WHO SHOULD GET THE VACCINE AND WHEN SHOULD THEY GET IT? The federal advisory committee on immunization practices recommends the HPV vaccine for all 11- and 12-year-old girls and recently approved a recommendation for routine vaccination of 11- and 12-year-old boys. The vaccine can also be given to both females and males as young as 9 years old and up to 26 years old, if their doctor recommends it. HPV vaccine is given as a series of three doses. It is not required for school entry in Washington.

    HOW LONG DOES THE PROTECTION LAST? So far, studies show that protection lasts at least five years, although they suggest that protection will last much longer. Research will continue to see how long each vaccine’s protection lasts.

    HOW CAN I GET THE HPV VACCINE? Children in the state of Washington who are under age 19 can get the HPV vaccine for free. Some health care providers charge an administration fee or an office visit fee. You can ask to waive the administration fee if you can’t afford to pay. For people age 19 and older, the vaccine is available from many clinics and pharmacies.

    Visit the following websites for more information on HPV, the vaccine and cervical cancer: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington State Department of Health, American Sexual Health Association, or the American Cancer Society.

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