Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States. About 79 million people in the U.S. have HPV and another 14 million get HPV each year1. Nearly half of these new infections occur among teens and young adults aged 15 to 242. In fact, nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV3, a group of 150 related viruses4, at some point in their lives.
HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex with a person who has HPV, even when the person shows no signs or symptoms. Vaginal and anal sex are the most common ways to transmit HPV, but oral sex and genital-to-genital contact can transmit HPV as well.
HPV can cause cancer in several areas of the body, including the mouth or throat, anus or rectum, penis, and vagina. Not everybody who has HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. In most cases, HPV will go away on its own and won’t cause any health problems5. However, it’s still important to get screened and vaccinated. For most women, diagnosis of HPV often starts with abnormal results from a routine Pap test (or “smear”) where a doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix. For men, there is no HPV test approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
The best way to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated. Pre-teens, teens and young adults should get the vaccine before they become sexually active as it works best on those who have not yet been exposed to the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends 11- to 12-year-olds get two doses of the HPV vaccine – rather than the previously recommended three doses – to protect against cancers caused by HPV.
The HPV vaccine is very safe. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. The most common side effects, like headache or muscle or join pain, are usually mild.
If you need more information, call 311 for:
- Vaccination locations
- Help finding a doctor for your child
- Help finding a doctor or clinic to get a Pap test
Free or low-cost confidential STI exams and treatment, including Pap tests, are available at Sexual Health Clinics in all five boroughs of New York City. Health insurance, proof of citizenship and parental consent are NOT required.