The Gardasil vaccine can offer protection against one of the most common types of STDs – the human papillomavirus virus (HPV).
What Is HPV?
HPV is a broad term, and many of its strains are relatively harmless and may clear on their own. However, some types can cause health problems ranging from genital warts to certain types of cancer.
It is not always obvious that a person has HPV as they may be asymptomatic. Genital warts typically first appear as small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area that may be raised, flat, or cauliflower shaped. Complicating matters further is the fact that cancer may take years to develop after a person contracts HPV. The virus has been linked to cancers of the vagina, vulva, anus, and penis, along with cancer in the back of the throat, or oropharyngeal cancer.
It spreads easily through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and a person who has it may pass the infection to someone else even if they are not experiencing any signs or symptoms of the disease. Moreover, its symptoms can develop years after sexual contact with an infected person, which means it can be difficult to determine when you may have contracted it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were around 43 million HPV infections in 2018. Many of those affected were people in their early 20s or late teens. (1)
What Is The Gardasil Vaccine?
The Gardasil vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for both males and females, and it can prevent most cases of cervical cancer if it is administered to girls or women before they are exposed to the virus. It can also help to protect against some of the other problems associated with HPV, such as genital warts and several types of cancers. However, it cannot treat an active infection.
It is theorized that vaccinating boys against the HPV strains linked to cervical cancer could protect girls from the virus by reducing transmission, but the vaccine is largely given to girls around ages 11 or 12. It is best to receive it before beginning sexual contact as it may not be as effective once someone has been exposed.
It is recommended that younger girls receive two doses of the vaccine at least six months apart. Teens and young adults who start the vaccine series need three doses as the response to the vaccine is not as strong in this age group as it is in younger children.
Although some parents worry that the HPV vaccine could encourage young girls to make riskier decisions, studies have shown that getting the vaccine does not lead people to have more sex or start having sex at a younger age.
Women aged 27 to 45 should talk to their doctor about their HPV risk. In some cases, it may not be necessary to get the vaccine; your health care professional can help you make an informed decision based on your risk profile and your health and sexual history.
Does The Vaccine Have Side Effects?
The side effects of the HPV vaccine are typically mild. Some of the more common effects of it include swelling, redness at the injection site, and soreness. In some cases, dizziness or fainting may occur immediately afterward, so it is recommended to remain sitting for 15 minutes post-injection. Some people may also experience headaches, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or weakness.
People who are allergic to any components of the vaccine could experience a severe reaction, so it is important to discuss any allergies you have with your doctor before getting the vaccine.
Does It Change Your Menstrual Cycle?
The HPV vaccine will not change your menstrual cycle, and it has not been linked to infertility. However, pregnant women are advised to wait until after giving birth to get the vaccine.
Do You Still Need Pap Tests If You Get The Vaccine?
Pap tests remain an important way of diagnosing and preventing cervical cancer. Although the HPV vaccine may reduce your risk of getting some cancers, it does not protect against every type of HPV that could cause cancer. Therefore, you need regular Pap or HPV tests to pick up any changes in cells that could lead to cervical cancer.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk Of HPV?
Although the Gardasil vaccine is considered very effective, it is also important to use condoms correctly every time you have sex to reduce your chances of getting the virus. Keep in mind that HPV can infect areas of the body that condoms do not cover, which means they cannot provide complete protection. Being in a mutually monogamous relationship is another effective way of reducing your risk.
Talk To The Women’s Health Care Team
To learn more about the benefits of the HPV vaccine and find out whether Gardasil is right for you, get in touch with the women’s health care team at Raleigh Gynecology & Wellness today.