Living Well

What is HPV?

Heather Razmus, APRN-CNM
What is HPV?

The Human papillomavirus is a virus that is spread by skin-to-skin contact, including sexual intercourse. The risk of HPV exposure increases with the number of sexual partners you have and the number of partners your partner has had. The majority of individuals become infected with HPV for the first time between ages 15 and 25 years. Approximately 75-80% of sexually active adults will contract HPV before the age of 50. Most people infected with HPV never develop any signs or symptoms of infection. However, 10 to 20 percent infected with certain strains of the virus can develop cancer of the cervix, anus, throat or oral cavity.

Paper with words  HPV infection and glasses.

What diseases are related to HPV?

HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts in both men and women.  There are over 100 identified strains of HPV and more than 40 of these are known to infect the cervix and approximately 15 can cause cervical cancer. High risk types 16 and 18 cause most cases of cervical cancer, but types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58 are also high-risk types, which can also cause cancer. HPV has also been associated with anal cancer, cancer of the throat, tonsil and base of the tongue. Penile cancer is very rare, however over 50 percent of cases can be attributed to HPV.

How can I prevent HPV?

Condoms do not provide complete protection from HPV infection because they do not cover all exposed genital skin and infection comes from skin-to-skin contact. People cannot become infected by touching an object, such as a toilet seat. Three vaccines (Gardasil-9, Gardasil, and Cervarix) are available to prevent infection with types of high risk HPV. Research has indicated that the vaccine will significantly reduce the occurrence of women who develop precancerous cervical cells, thus decreasing the incidence of cervical cancer. Limiting the number of sexual partners and smoking cessation has also been attributed to decreasing the incidence of HPV.

Who should get the HPV vaccine?

The vaccine will provide the greatest protection from HPV when received prior to the initation of sexual activity. It is recommended that all boys and girls be vaccinated at the age of 11 or 12. It is FDA approved to vaccinate girls ages 9 to 26 years and boys ages 9 to 21 years.

There are currently three FDA approved vaccines available. You should talk to your health care provider to determine which vaccine is best for you. The three vaccines protect against different types of HPV. Dosing depends on the age of administration, but is at least two injections six months apart.

Are there any side-effects to the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine may cause mild redness, tenderness or swelling near the injection site. There is no thimerosal (a mercury derivative used as a preservative) in the HPV vaccine. Large studies have not demonstrated any evidence of severe health risk associated with this vaccine. Most healthcare experts believe that health benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risk.

heather-razmus-aprn-webHeather Razmus, APRN-CNM, is a Certified Nurse-Midwife with Crescent City Physicians Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. Heather received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from William Carey College and received her Master of Science with Midwifery focus from the University of Minnesota. After graduation she practiced in Michigan for thirteen years. Heather is a New Orleans Native whose goal was to return home and bring more birth options to the women of New Orleans and she is thrilled to be achieving that dream.  Her interests include waterbirth, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and she is committed to helping woman achieve their birth goals. As a certified-nurse midwife, Heather can care for women of all ages, at every stage of life