Guardians Against HPV: Comprehensive Guide to Prevention, Vaccination, and Screening

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection that can have serious health consequences. Effective prevention strategies include a combination of measures, vaccination, and screening tests. Understanding and adopting these preventive measures is crucial in reducing the risk of HPV-related complications.

Vaccine Types: Vaccination Against Infection

HPV Vaccines:

  • HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing infection with the most common types of the virus.
  • Gardasil 9 and Cervarix are two widely used HPV vaccines that provide protection against multiple high-risk HPV strains.
  • Vaccination is recommended for both males and females, ideally before the onset of sexual activity.

Gardasil 9

Gardasil 9, developed by Merck, it is an extension of the original Gardasil vaccine, offering immunity against nine high-risk HPV types:

  • HPV-16 & HPV-18. These are the two most common high-risk strains of HPV. These strains cause 70% of cervical cancers, 90% of anal cancers and many cancers that can affect your throat and genitals.
  • HPV-31, 33, 45, 52 & 58. Together, these strains cause an additional 20% of cervical cancers.
  • HPV-6 & HPV-11. These strains cause 90% of genital warts.

Gardasil protects against infections associated with:

  • HPV-16 & HPV-18
  • HPV-6 & HPV-11
  • Remains effective:

Gardasil (2006) 10+ years after vaccination.

Gardasil-9 (2014) at least 6 years after vaccination.

Vaccination is most effective when administered before exposure to the virus.

Not all HPV vaccines provide the same protection. There are three different vaccines. Each protects against different strains of HPV.

Cervarix

Cervarix, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, is another HPV vaccine designed to provide protection against specific high-risk HPV types, primarily targeting cervical cancer.

  • Targeted HPV-16 & HPV-18: Cervarix is designed to protect against HPV types 16 and 18, which are among the most common high-risk strains associated with cervical cancer.
  • Emphasis on Cervical Cancer Prevention: While also contributing to the prevention of other HPV-related cancers, Cervarix has a particular emphasis on reducing the incidence of cervical cancer in women.

  • Remains effective:

Cervarix (2009) 10+ years after vaccination.

Age Recommendations:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine vaccination for adolescents aged 11-12 years, with catch-up vaccinations for those up to age 26. The age limit for getting vaccinated (first 26 and now 45) is based on the thinking that most people have had sex (and potentially been exposed to multiple strains of HPV) by adulthood. If you’ve already been exposed, the vaccine won’t provide much benefit.

  • Children between ages 11 & 12. The HPV vaccine is part of the vaccination schedule for children between 11 and 12, but children as young as 9 years old can safely receive it. The goal is to vaccinate children before they become sexually active and risk exposure.
  • Adults up to and including age 26. The vaccine is also recommended for adults up to age 26. This includes people who started the series as a child, teen or young adult but didn’t finish it.
  • Some adults up to and including age 45: In 2018, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the age range from 26 to 45. The recommendation was based on research that showed the vaccine prevented HPV infections among adults in this age range, too.

What is the HPV vaccination schedule?

You’ll get the vaccine as a series of shots. The number of shots depends on the age at the first dose.

  • From age 9 to 15: You’ll need two shots to be fully protected. You should get the second shot six to 12 months after getting the first shot. At this age, your immune system is especially strong. Vaccination at a young age provides the strongest immune response and the best protection against HPV infection.
  • Ages 15 and up: You’ll need three shots to be fully protected. You should get the second shot one to two months after your first shot. You should get the third shot six months after your first shot.

HPV Vaccine Side Effects

Vaccines against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), such as Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix, are generally safe and effective in preventing infections by certain types of HPV. However, as with all vaccines, side effects can occur. Most of these effects are mild and temporary.

Common Side Effects:
  1. Pain at the injection site: This is the most common side effect and may be accompanied by redness or swelling.
  2. Fever: A mild fever may occur after vaccination.
  3. Headache: Some individuals may experience headaches after the injection.
  4. Fatigue: A feeling of tiredness or weakness.
  5. Nausea: Some people may feel temporarily nauseous.
  6. Muscle or joint pain: Pain in the muscles or joints.
Less Common Side Effects:
  1. Dizziness or fainting: In rare cases, some people, especially adolescents, may faint after receiving the vaccine. It is recommended that individuals sit or lie down for about 15 minutes after vaccination to prevent fainting.
  2. Swollen lymph nodes: This can occur in rare instances.
Allergic Reactions:
  • Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis): These are extremely rare but can occur. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and throat, and a severe rash. These reactions typically happen shortly after vaccination, so healthcare professionals monitor individuals for a few minutes after the injection to manage any immediate reactions.
Important Considerations:
  • People with severe allergies: Those with severe allergies to any component of the vaccine should not receive it.
  • Pregnancy: It is not recommended to administer the vaccine to pregnant women, although studies have shown there is no significant risk. Women who are pregnant or think they might be should inform their doctor before receiving the vaccine.
Benefits of Vaccination:
  • HPV vaccines are highly effective in preventing infections by the HPV types that cause the majority of cervical cancers, anal cancers, and other HPV-related cancers, as well as genital warts.
  • Preventing HPV infections significantly reduces the incidence of these cancers and diseases.
Conclusion:

While HPV vaccines can have side effects, they are typically mild and temporary. The benefits of vaccination, in terms of preventing cancers and other HPV-related diseases, far outweigh the risks of side effects. It is important to discuss any concerns with a healthcare professional to make an informed decision about vaccination.

Safe Practices: Minimizing Transmission Risks

Safe Sex Practices:

  • Consistent and correct condom use during sexual activity can reduce the risk of HPV transmission, though it may not eliminate it entirely.
  • Limiting the number of sexual partners and choosing partners with lower risk can also lower the likelihood of HPV exposure.

Can oral sex impact in the genital area?

Yes, oral sex can transmit certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) to the genital area. While the risk of HPV transmission through oral sex may be lower than through vaginal or anal intercourse, it is still possible.

It’s essential to use protection, such as condoms or dental dams, during oral sex to reduce the risk of HPV transmission and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Additionally, vaccination against HPV can significantly reduce the risk of infection with the most common cancer-causing strains of the virus.

Screening Tests: Detecting and Managing Infections

Pap Smears and HPV Tests:

  • Pap smears (Pap tests) are used to detect abnormal cervical cells, often caused by HPV infection.
  • HPV tests specifically check for the presence of the virus in cervical cells.
  • Regular screenings are crucial for early detection, enabling timely intervention and preventing the progression of HPV-related diseases.

Vaccinated Individuals and Screening:

  • Even if vaccinated, individuals are advised to continue with routine screenings as vaccines do not cover all HPV types.
  • Screening remains a vital component of overall preventive healthcare.

By combining vaccination, safe sexual practices, and regular screenings, individuals can take proactive steps to prevent HPV-related health issues. Public health efforts focused on education and awareness further contribute to a comprehensive approach in reducing the burden of HPV infections and related diseases.

Source: Nature

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