My HPV Vaccine Experience
Originally Published: January 28, 2013
Revised: January 6, 2015
Like most nine-year-olds, I had no idea what HPV was when I first got the Gardasil vaccination. I can vaguely remember my mom and my doctor telling me that the shots were just to help prevent some sort of disease. Of course, at nine, I didn’t know what sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were. I was just terrified about getting a shot. Now, as a teenager, I realize the importance of the HPV vaccination in the prevention of cervical cancer.
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 40 types of HPV that infect the genitals of guys and girls. Two of them (strains 16 and 18) cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer cases. Thanks to the Gardasil vaccination, those are two of the four strains I’m protected against! Whether you’re a guy or a girl, you may want to consider getting vaccinated against HPV. Here’s what you need to know.
If the vaccine can prevent an infection that could lead to cancer later in life, why risk not getting vaccinated?
What Is HPV?
HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus, is a common STD. Transmission can occur through genital skin-to-skin contact and through vaginal, anal and oral sex with someone who is already infected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of all sexually active people will have HPV during their lifetime! Unfortunately, many will never realize it because of the lack of noticeable symptoms and the time it takes for those symptoms to appear. That’s why it’s difficult to figure out who you got the STD from, when you got it, and whether you’ve passed it on to someone else.
While 90 percent of HPV infections are cleared by a person’s immune system within two years and have no harmful effect on the body, HPV can lead to low- or high-risk infections. A common symptom of low-risk types of HPV are warts in the genital area. However there are high-risk types of HPV that over many years can cause cancer of the anus, penis, throat, vulva, vagina or cervix—all of which are very rare.
How to Prevent HPV
Girls and women between the ages of nine and 26 can get one of two vaccines: Gardasil or Cervarix. They both protect against the two HPV strains that cause 70-percent of all cervical cancer cases. Similarly, guys can protect themselves and future partners by getting the Gardasil vaccine, which has been approved for guys. I was vaccinated with Gardasil, which requires three shots over the course of several months.
Although HPV vaccines are effective, they don’t work against all strains. So, it’s important that you rely on other methods of prevention as well. For example, once a girl turns 21, she can get a Pap test every two years to check for abnormal cervical cells. Teens can practice safer sex by using condoms and dental dams and by getting tested for STDs with their partners. Staying abstinent—that is, not having oral, anal or vaginal sex and not rubbing against your partner with clothes off—is always an option. It’s the one way to completely avoid HPV.
Some people might still have the same mentality as nine-year-old me—not quite understanding what HPV is or what difference the vaccine can make. But, I think it’s important to realize how amazing the HPV vaccine is. If the vaccine can prevent an infection that could lead to cancer later in life, why risk not getting vaccinated? If you haven’t been vaccinated, consider asking your health care provider about Gardasil and Cervarix. Also, if you know someone who hasn’t been vaccinated, you can spread the word and help raise awareness about cervical cancer!
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