Vaccinate Your Baby

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Click on the photo above to open the Human Papillomavirus page from the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases eBook!

The Disease

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause genital warts (warts on the genital areas); recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (a rare condition in which warts grow in the throat); cervical cancer; genital cancer (cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus); and oropharyngeal cancer (cancer in the back of throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils). HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer in women. The virus is spread through sexual contact. Anyone who has sex or any type of intimate sexual contact can get HPV; however, most of the time HPV has no symptoms so people don't know they have it, and pass it along to others.

Very rarely, a pregnant woman with genital HPV can pass HPV to her baby during delivery. In these cases, the child can develop recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP). In children, this is also referred to as juvenile-onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. There is no certain way to tell who will develop health problems from HPV and who will not.

The Statistics

Each year in the U.S., HPV causes approximately 17,000 cancers in women and about 9,000 cancers in men. Cervical cancer causes about 4,000 deaths in women each year in the U.S. About 1 in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. have genital warts at any given time. Unfortunately, low HPV vaccination rates are leaving another generation of boys and girls vulnerable to devastating HPV cancers. Vaccination could prevent most of these cancers.

The Vaccine

HPV vaccine protects both girls and boys from cancer and infection caused by certain strains of HPV. For the best protection, a three dose series of the vaccine is needed and should be given beginning at 11 or 12 years of age. The three shots should be given over a six month period. For the HPV vaccine to work best, it is very important for preteens to get all 3 doses (shots) long before any sexual activity with another person begins. Also, the vaccine produces higher antibody that fights infection when given at this age compared to older ages. Please be assured that research has shown that getting the HPV vaccine does not make children more likely to become sexually active or start having sex at a younger age.

If they are already sexually active, women who were not previously vaccinated and are 26 years old or younger should receive three doses of the vaccine. Men who were not previously vaccinated and are 21 years old or younger should also receive three doses of the vaccine. Men who are 22 to 26 years of age with certain risk conditions that put them at higher risk for HPV should also be vaccinated.

The FDA has licensed three different HPV vaccines for use in the United States. Prior to being licensed by the FDA, each vaccine went through years of extensive safety testing. As with all vaccines, the CDC and FDA continue to monitor the safety of these vaccines very carefully. The most common side effects from the HPV vaccine are pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where the shot was given; dizziness, fainting, nausea, and headache. The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risk of side effects. Learn more about the safety of the HPV vaccine.

Additional Resources


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