Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that can infect the genital area, including the lining of the vagina and cervix. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. It is spread through sexual contact with an infected person and, if left untreated, can lead to cervical cancer. A vaccine called Gardasil was released to the public in 2006 to protect against HPV. It's administered to women in three doses via injection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and another 6.2 million people become newly infected each year. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives.
Most people with HPV do not develop any symptoms or health problems. Certain types of HPV, however, can cause genital warts in men and women, and other HPV types can cause cervical cancer and other less common cancers, such as of the vulva, vagina, anus and penis. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.
The vaccine is recommended by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Cancer Society, particularly for 11- and 12-year-old girls, but can be given to girls as young as 9 and women as old as 26.
Recent studies show women who receive the vaccine who have not previously been diagnosed with a case of HPV are almost 100 percent immune to the disease post-vaccination. The vaccine does not prevent against all forms of HPV; it protects against only the four types of HPV that are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts cases. No major side effects are associated with receiving the vaccine. Mild problems include swelling at the injection site.
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