Ask the Nurse: HPV Vaccination

HPV, or human papillomavirus, affects 75 to 80 percent of males and females in their lifetimes, and there are an estimated 6 million new cases of HPV each year. In this segment of Ask the Nurse, we talk to McFarland Clinic pediatric advanced registered nurse practitioner Sheila Baker, who explains what HPV is, the problems it can cause, and why you should consider getting your children vaccinated.

Q: What exactly is HPV, and how is it transmitted?

A: Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not know they have it. HPV is not the same as herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). These are all viruses that can be passed on during sex, but they cause different symptoms and health problems. HPV is the most common virus that is passed from one person to another through direct skin–to-skin contact during sexual activity.

Q: Why are parents being urged to get their children vaccinated against HPV?

A: Studies indicate that first sexual encounters can occur as early as at seventh grade, or between the ages of 12 and 16, so the chances of having already been exposed to HPV by the age of 26 are fairly high. Also, each year there are approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted disease infections, with 50 percent of those affecting 15- to 24-year-olds. Those statistics, combined with the vaccine studies being performed on younger adolescents, led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the vaccines for a very specific age group.

Q: There are over 100 types of HPV. Do we need to be worried about all of them?

A: No. Most types of HPV are not serious and do not cause symptoms. In fact, the body’s immune system clears HPV within two years in 90 percent of cases. However, certain strains of HPV can lead to more severe health problems, and unfortunately, there is no way to know who will get HPV and go on to develop more serious health issues as a result. Of the 100 types of HPV, there seem to be four that cause the most problems. Types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts cases in both males and females. Types 16 and 18 cause 75 percent of cervical cancers in females and also 70 percent of vaginal cancers, along with 50 percent of vulvar cancers. Approximately 7,000 men per year suffer from head, neck or anal cancer as a result of HPV.

Q: Should both boys and girls be vaccinated? At what age should they receive the vaccine?

A: There are two vaccines available in the United States that protect against HPV. Gardasil provides protection against Types 6, 11, 16 and 18, whereas Cervarix protects only against Types 16 and 18. Girls may receive either vaccine as both protect against female cancers, but boys should receive Gardasil as it is the only vaccine of the two that protects against genital warts. Anyone between the ages of 9 and 26 may receive the vaccine, but the vaccines seem to be the most effective when given at 11 to 12 years of age. The vaccines are safe and effective, and are given in three doses over six months. It is important to get all three doses to get the best protection. Most health providers will talk with you about the vaccine at your child’s well-child visit, but the vaccine may also be administered by visiting a nurse.

Q: What are the side effects to the vaccine?

A: As with any vaccine, there are possible side effects. However, the important thing to remember is that the benefits of the vaccines and the protection they provide far outweighs the inconvenience of the side effects. Side effects include injection site pain, redness, swelling, headache, fever, nausea and dizziness. Fainting has also been reported, so after receiving an HPV vaccine, a person must wait 15 minutes before leaving to help prevent fainting.


Learn More

For more information on the vaccine or to make an appointment to have your child vaccinated, please call McFarland Clinic pediatrics at 515-239-4400.