Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that many people will be exposed to at some point in their lives.
The virus is spread through direct skin to skin contact with a person who has the virus, most commonly through sexual contact (oral, vaginal, anal).
Most people are not aware that they have the virus—they do not have any symptoms at all and can unknowingly spread it to others .
HPV has multiple subtypes, many of which are essentially harmless, don’t cause significant problems and resolve on their own.
Some subtypes cause genital warts-unsightly growths that can appear on the penis, scrotum, anus, vagina or labia.
Other subtypes do not cause visible lesions but can cause changes in the cells of the cervix, vagina and vulva, the penis, the lining of the mouth and throat and the lining of the anus and rectum.
Within those subtypes are some that are considered “higher risk” and can cause cell changes that lead to cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, oral or anal cancer.
Is there a test for HPV?
Genital warts are usually diagnosed on the basis of their appearance.
Higher risk types can be detected by a Pap test of the cervix or anus, a microscopic examination of the cells that may reveal abnormalities characteristic of HPV infection.
Testing can be done to see if the changes are caused by a subtype with a higher risk of leading to cancer.
What can I do to prevent getting HPV?
Use protection. Consistent use of condoms (male or female, latex or polyurethane) and barriers (such as latex dental dams) every time for oral, vaginal and anal sex can help prevent HPV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Get screened for cervical and anal cancer with a Pap test. It is recommended that women start getting a cervical Pap test at age 21. An anal Pap test can be done for those who have anal receptive intercourse (a partner’s penis inserted into your anus).
Get vaccinated against HPV with Gardasil.
What is Gardasil?
Gardasil is a vaccine that protects men and women against nine different subtypes of HPV.
Two of these types, HPV 11 and 6, cause 90% of all genital warts. The other two types, HPV 16 and 18, cause approximately 70% of all cervical cancers.
Gardasil is approved for men through age 21 and women through age 26. The best time to get Gardasil is before exposure to the virus, which is why it is recommended that boys and girls get the vaccine at age 11 or 12, before the onset of sexual activity.
It is recommended that gay and bisexual men who did not get the vaccine as children, get the vaccine to “catch up”--up to age 26.
The vaccine is administered by injection (shot) and is given in three doses over six months on the following schedule: dose #1 followed by dose #2 two months later and ending with dose #3, six months after the first one.
The injection is given in the upper arm muscle. Side effects are generally mild and may include pain, itching and redness at the injection site, mild fever and possibly nausea or dizziness.
Because Gardasil does not protect against all the subtypes of HPV, condoms and barriers are still recommended for oral, vaginal and anal sex. Every time.
Where can I get Gardasil?
Your primary care or women’s health care provider.
Planned Parenthood and county health department vaccine clinics.
The SHC offers Gardasil at $140 per dose, payable by cash, check, TigerBucks, Visa or MasterCard.
We can give you a receipt to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement, if applicable.
Please check your insurance coverage first to be sure you will be reimbursed for immunizations given at the SHC.
Another option is to make an appointment to obtain a prescription for the vaccine to be purchased at an outside pharmacy. You may then bring the vaccine to the SHC for administration.
If you started the series elsewhere and want/need to get a dose while at school to stay on schedule, please bring documentation of previous doses (with the date(s) given) to your appointment, or ask your health care provider to fax it to us at (585) 475-7788.