Human papillomavirus (HPV)

What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that infects the skin, genital area and lining of the cervix. It is spread during unprotected sex with an infected partner. There are many different types of papillomaviruses (about 100). Some types cause warts on the skin, some types cause warts in the anal and genital areas, and some types cause cancer.

How common is HPV?
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Most people never know they have been infected and may spread it to a partner without knowing it. About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and about 14 million people are newly infected each year.

Can you get HPV from someone who does not have any symptoms?
Yes. In fact, most people do not know when they are infected with HPV. So, even if your partner does not have any symptoms of an HPV infection, he or she can still pass the virus to you.

Can HPV be cured?
No, but some types of HPV can be prevented by HPV vaccines. Most people with HPV never develop symptoms or health problems, and most HPV infections (9 out of 10) go away by themselves within two years.

What are the types of cancer that can be prevented by HPV vaccines?

  • Cervical cancer
  • Cancer of the vulva
  • Cancer of the vagina
  • Cancer of the penis
  • Cancer of the anus
  • Oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils)


How safe are HPV vaccines?
Many studies have been conducted to make sure HPV vaccines were safe before and after the vaccines were licensed. No serious safety concerns have been confirmed in the large safety studies that have been done since HPV vaccine became available in 2006. All vaccines in the United States are required to go through detailed safety testing before they are licensed by FDA. Once in use, they are continually checked for safety and effectiveness. 

Like any vaccine or medicine, HPV vaccines can cause side effects. The most common side effects are pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given, dizziness, fainting, nausea and headache. HPV vaccination does not usually cause serious side effects. The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any poossible risk of side effects.

HPV Disease Risks

  • Cervical cancer
  • Cancer of the vagina and vulva
  • Cancers of the head and neck
  • Cancers of the anus and penis
  • Genital warts
  • Can be fatal


HPV Vaccine Risks

  • Pain, redness, tenderness at injection site
  • Low grade fever


Reports of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, chronic fatigue syndrome, infertility or premature ovarian failure, and even death have occurred after receipt of this vaccine; however, studies of people who did and did not get the vaccine have shown that none of these problems were caused by the HPV vaccine.

Does the HPV vaccine work?
Yes. The HPV vaccine was originally studied in about 30,000 girls and young women between 9 and 26 years of age. Studies showed that the vaccine prevented 9 of 10 HPV infections and was completely effective at preventing continued infections and changes in HPV tests for women (Pap smear) that predict cervical cancer. Other studies showed that HPV vaccine prevented HPV infection, anal and genital warts, and anal cancer in men.

Can the HPV vaccine cause cancer?
No. The HPV vaccine can't cause HPV or cause cervical cancer or other cancers.

Will the vaccine cause women to be unable to have children?
No. There is no information that suggests the HPV vaccine will cause problems with the ability to get pregnant. In fact, getting vaccinated and protecting against cervical cancer can help women have healthy pregnancies and have healthy babies. Not getting the HPV vaccine leaves people without protection to HPV infection; for women, this could lead to cervical cancer. The treatment of cervical cancer (hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and/or radiation, for example) could leave a woman unable to have children. Even the treatment of cervical pre-cancers caused by HPV can cause preterm labor or problems at the time of delivery.

When should children be vaccinated?
The HPV vaccine is recommended for preteen boys and girls at 11 or 12 years of age so they are protected before ever being exposed to the virus. HPV vaccine also produces better protection during the preteen years. The vaccine is given in two doses. The second dose is given 6 months after the first dose. If the series is not started until 15 years of age or older, three doses are required. The second dose is given at one or two months after the first dose, then the third dose is given six months after the first dose.

How long does immunity last if you receive all doses of the HPV vaccine?
It is not known for sure whether immunity will last a lifetime. First, the vaccine has been studied for more than 10 yearst. There is no sign that the vaccine does not protect against HPV in people who received the it that long ago. Second, the protection the vaccine gives is stronger than the protection a person may get after having the natural infection. Finally, the HPV vaccine is made much like the hepatitis B vaccine, which can provide protection for at least 25 years.

For more information about HPV, visit these websites: