Human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts,
is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). HPV
infection can also cause problems with the cervix (the opening to
the uterus located at the top of the vagina) that may lead to
Both girls and guys can get HPV from sexual contact, including
vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Most people infected with HPV
don't know it because they have no symptoms. People do not
always develop genital warts when they are infected with the virus,
but it's still in their system and it could be causing damage.
With or without obvious signs like warts, people with HPV
might not know they have it and can pass the infection to
Because HPV can cause serious problems such as genital warts and
cervical cancer, a vaccine is an important step in preventing
infection and protecting against the spread of HPV. In June 2006,
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine,
which protects girls from getting some of the more dangerous
strains of HPV.
How Does It Work?
The FDA approved the HPV vaccine as safe for females ages 9 to
26 years old. The vaccine is given as three injections over a
The vaccine does not protect girls who have been infected with
HPV before they've been vaccinated. So getting the vaccine
before having sex for the first time is the most effective way for
it to help prevent the infection. However, the vaccine doesn't
protect against all types of HPV, so it's important for girls
who are having sex to get routine checkups and, when their doctor
recommends it, Pap smears.
The only way to be completely sure about preventing HPV
infections and other STDs is not to have sex (called
). For those who are having sex, condoms offer some protection
against HPV. Condoms can't completely prevent infections
because the warts can be outside the area covered by the condom
(warts are not always clearly seen), and condoms can break.
The HPV vaccine is also not a replacement for using condoms to
protect against other STDs when having sex.
Spermicidal foams, creams, and jellies have not been proven to
protect against HPV and genital warts. If you have questions about
the vaccine or are concerned about STDs, talk to your doctor.
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: June 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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