HPV Question and Answer
Q. What is HPV (human papillomavirus)?
A. HPV is a group of more than 150 viruses, many of which are transmitted by intimate sexual contact. Some types can cause genital warts and other types cause cancer.
Q. How can I get HPV?
A. HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus.
Q. What does HPV cause?
A. In most cases, HPV will go away on its own. When it does not go away it can cause genital warts and six different kinds of cancer including cervical cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, penile cancer, and cancer of the back of the throat.
Q. How common is HPV?
A. HPV is the most common STI in the U.S with 80 million people currently infected. 1 out of 4 men and women in the U.S. currently have HPV.
Q. Who is at risk?
A. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting HPV, including both men and women.
Q. How do I know if I have HPV? Are there any tests to find out?
A. For women: Women can find out if they have HPV by getting routine cervical cancer screening (sometimes called a Pap test or Pap smear). For men: There are no tests to identify HPV in men. Some specialty clinics offer anal cancer screening, but there are no FDA-approved tests to check for HPV or HPV-related cancers in men.
Q. Can HPV be prevented?
A. Yes, by getting vaccinated. The most common cancer and genital wart causing types of HPV can be prevented with a three dose vaccine for men and women until the age of 26.
Q. Who should be vaccinated?
A. HPV vaccine is recommended for young women through age 26, and young men through age 21. HPV vaccine is also recommended for the following people though age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger:
- Young men who have sex with men, including young men who identify as gay or bisexual or who intend to have sex with men
- Young adults who are transgender
- Young adults with certain immunocompromising conditions (including HIV)
Q. How many doses (shots) of HPV vaccine do I need?
A. If you get your first shot of HPV after age 15, you need 3 doses (shots) total to protect yourself from HPV. You should get your second shot about 1-2 months after the first shot, and the third shot about 4 months after the second shot. To help you remember, schedule your appointment for your next dose before you leave the clinic.
Q. Is the vaccine safe?
A. Yes. All HPV vaccines have been tested extensively for years before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA will only approve a vaccine if it is safe, effective, and the benefits outweigh the risks. Additionally, the CDC and FDA monitor associated side effects or adverse events through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
Q. What are the possible side effects?
A. The vaccine, like any medications or other vaccines, can have potential side effects. Many people do not have any side effects, but when they do the most common side effects are:
- Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given
- Headache or feeling tired
- Muscle or joint pain
Q. Can people faint after being vaccinated?
A. People sometimes faint after receiving different medical procedures, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down while getting a shot and then staying that way for about 15 minutes can help prevent fainting.
Q. Where can I be vaccinated?
A. The HPV vaccine is available at University Health Services on Campus (also called the Student Health and Wellness Center). You can also get vaccinated from your primary care doctor. If someone does not have insurance, they can become vaccinated at the local Leon County Health Department.
Q. Is the vaccine expensive?
A. The vaccine is covered by most health insurances. Additionally, it is available at the Leon County Health department for a small fee for those who currently have no health insurance.
Q. I am not currently sexually active, so do I still need the vaccine?
A. Yes. By getting vaccinated now, you will be taking steps to protect yourself from HPV when you become sexually active in the future. Even people who have only one sexual partner can get HPV if their partner was previously exposed to the virus.
Q. Do I still need to be vaccinated if I am in a serious monogamous relationship?
A. While being in a monogamous relationship can reduce your risk, if your partner has had previous partners (even just one), you may be at risk. Most people do not know they have HPV because it usually does not have any symptoms (unless someone has genital warts). For these reasons, it is a good idea to get vaccinated.
Q. I am on my parent’s health insurance and do not want them to know I have received or am thinking about receiving the HPV vaccine. What can I do?
A. Choosing to become vaccinated is an adult decision, and it is encouraged that you begin to take ownership in making your own healthcare decisions. If your parents ask about the vaccine, you can explain to them that this vaccine was recommended by your health care provider to protect you from different types of cancer and is most effective if given before the age of 26.