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HPV & The HPV Vaccine

What do you know about HPV and Gardasil?

Gardasil has been well advertised in the media and HPV has become a common topic for women.  However, many women still have questions regarding the vaccine.  Here is a quick Q & A regarding the vaccine:

What is Gardasil?

It is a vaccine to help prevent certain types of cervical cancer and genital warts?

How does Gardasil work?

It provides protection against 4 types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV).  Types 16 and 18 cause about 70% of cervical cancer.  Types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts.

What is HPV?

HPV is a virus that is sexually transmitted.  It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.  Hence, 80% of sexually active women will have HPV by the age of 50.

How does a person get HPV?

Any contact type of sexual or genital contact can pass HPV.  You do not have to have intercourse to get the virus.

How can I tell if my partner has HPV?

Unfortunately, you can not always see HPV.  If the HPV is one of the types that cause genital warts, you may see growths on your partner’s genitals.  However, if your partner has one of the types that cause cervical cancer, they will not have any visible symptoms. 

How is the Gardasil vaccine given?

It is given as a series of 3 shots, usually in your arm.  The 2nd and 3rd shots are 2 and 6 months after the 1st.  It is important to complete the series of shots at the correct intervals. 

Can I get HPV from the vaccine?

No, Gardasil does not contain a live virus.  It helps your body recognize proteins on the virus if it is present.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Just like any shot, you may have pain, redness, itching, swelling or bruising where the injection is given.  Headache, fever, nausea, dizziness and vomiting have also occurred.  Fainting has happened after the injection.  This is more common in teens.  Allergic reactions, joint pain, muscle aches, and general tiredness have also been reported.

Who should get the Gardasil vaccine?

Gardasil is for females between the ages of 9 and 26.  You do not have to be sexually active to receive the vaccine.  In fact, Gardasil works best if given before a girl becomes sexually active.  This is when she can definitely receive the benefit of protection from all 4 types of HPV in the vaccine. 

Who should not get the Gardasil vaccine?

Anyone who is severely allergic to yeast or any other ingredients in the vaccine.  Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should not receive the vaccine.  Women who have had severe reactions to prior Gardasil vaccination.

If I already have HPV, why should I get the vaccine?

Because we do not know what type of HPV you may already have.  There are over 100 types of HPV.  Even if you have one of the types of HPV in Gardasil, you would still receive protection for the other three.  Additionally, some studies have shown that Gardasil can boost your own immune system in fighting HPV that is already present.

Does Gardasil treat HPV if you already have it?

Although some studies show the vaccine may help boost your own ability to fight HPV, Gardasil is not a treatment for HPV. 

Do I still need to have a pap smear every year if I get the vaccine?

Yes.  It is still important to check for changes in the cervical cells. 

My pap result says I have HPV, is there anyway to tell when or who I got it from?

Since HPV is a virus that can stay dormant (or asleep) in your body, there is no way to tell when you were first infected.  It is possible to become infected during your first sexual experience.  Likewise, your sexual partner may have contracted HPV during their 1st sexual experience.  There is no way to date how long HPV has been present.

Why is it so important to protect against HPV? 

There were approximately 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 1 million new cases of genital warts last year in the United States.  More than 25% of genital warts reoccur after treatment.

It is important to discuss the benefits and risks of any vaccine with your healthcare provider.  For more information you can ask a healthcare provider, ask for a pamphlet or visit http://www.gardasil.com/hpv/

By Cyndi Ayoub, WHNP

posted 5/1/09