Should you or your kids be immunized? 7 things to know about HPV vaccine

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FEATURE  The cancer-causing human papillomavirus is no laughing matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people become newly infected each year.

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. The CDC says that HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get the sexually transmitted infection at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine, which is proven to help protect you against the disease.

Here are seven questions that I commonly get asked about the HPV vaccine:

1. Is it harmful or does it have any side effects?

Like any vaccine, you can be allergic to some of the components, but it is rare and usually mild. For the vast majority of people, there is no reaction at all.

2. Is it effective?

The CDC reports that the vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective against the HPV viruses that cause genital warts as well as the main high-risk viruses that cause cervical cancer.

3. Will giving it to my kids make them more likely to be sexually promiscuous?

There are several very good studies on this exact question, and each of them has found that there is no difference in sexual activity among teens who have been vaccinated versus those that haven’t.

4. What is the ideal age to get immunized?

Around age 9-12. There are two shots usually given about 6-12 months apart.

In the past, the CDC did not recommend immunization past age 26. Recently, however, that recommendation has changed to advocate it for men and women at risk. HPV is not screened for in men and does not to our knowledge cause cancer in men, but it is recommended that boys be vaccinated as well as girls.

5. Can I still get immunized if I have had warts or been HPV positive?

Yes. It won’t affect the type of HPV you already have, but it will prevent other subtypes from infecting you.

6. Can you get HPV from sharing clothes or a towel, or from a toilet seat?

As far as we know, no. It takes direct sexual contact of some sort.

7. Is HPV permanent when you get it, like herpes?

HPV is usually cleared up by your immune system within a few years. Only a small subset of women go on to have precancerous changes that can progress to cervical cancer. There is no treatment for HPV itself.

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