Dr. Gerald Liu, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a family medicine physician with USA Physicians Group, said human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that is easily spread by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity.

In most cases, people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it.

Persistent HPV infection can cause genital warts, recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (a rare condition where warts grow in the throat), cervical cancer, other genital cancers (including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus), and throat cancer.

Because HPV is so common and because almost every sexually active person will most likely be exposed to the virus at some point in their lives, it is important to protect against the possible health effects of HPV.

HPV vaccines are important tools in preventing cancer and genital warts and are available to protect both males and females against some of the most common HPV types and the health problems that the virus can cause.

There are currently two HPV vaccines that are licensed by the FDA and recommended by CDC. These vaccines are Cervarix (for females only) and Gardasil (for both males and females). Both vaccines are given as shots and require three doses, with the second dose given at two months and the third dose given at six months.

Dr. Liu said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recommended that both males and females receive the vaccine at ages 11 to 12 years, and up to 21 years old in males and 26 years old in females.

For the HPV vaccine to work best, Dr. Liu said it is very important for preteens to get all three doses prior to onset of sexual activity. “Previous trial data has shown that three doses of the HPV vaccine had the most effect,” he said. “In our office, we have reminders that can be handed out that reminds the patient that it is time for his or her second and third dose of the vaccine. You can also sign up for reminders at the vaccine manufacturer’s website.”

According to Dr. Liu, HPV vaccines are very safe. “Safety data from multiple large trials including over 10,000 people did not show any serious side effects,” he said. “The most common mild side effects included pain where the shot was given, fever, headache, and nausea. As with all vaccines, fainting may develop after receiving the vaccine.”

For people who are outside of the age range for the HPV vaccine and are sexually active, condoms may help to lower the risk of HPV infection, but will not fully protect against the possibility of HPV infection.

The HPV vaccine is covered by the USA Health Plan for individuals who fall within the recommended age range. To learn more about the HPV vaccine, visit http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html. To make an appointment at the USA Family Medicine Center, call (251) 434-3475.

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