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Human papillomavirus infection, caused by a virus, is responsible for more than half of the cervical cancer cases in the world. Recently, a vaccine against the HPV virus was developed and is already being used in girls, teens and women. But, is it safe?

Have you heard about HPV?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that must be taken seriously. It is responsible for causing a genital infection, which is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, during any type of sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal and oral. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and it infects the skin and mucous membranes of male and female genitals.

A virus that can cause cancer

There are more than 40 known types of HPV; some of them cause dormant infections, meaning the virus is present but doesn’t cause any symptoms. In some other cases, the infection can cause chronic genital warts, which can be treated, but are also uncomfortable and of course, contagious.

Most importantly, several HPV types have been catalogued as high risk because they can cause cancer.

Among them, the 6, 11, 16 and 18 types are the most dangerous, since they have been linked to 70% of the cases of cervical cancer and 90% of genital warts cases, in the U.S. Apart from cervical cancer, high-risk HPV strains have also been classified as causing agents of other cancers, such as cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and oropharynx.

HPV infection is mainly diagnosed in teens and young adults of 16 to 24 years old. Because it only requires skin contact to be transmitted, the use of a condom doesn’t protect against the infection. What’s causing concern, though, is that most of the times, the infection is asymptomatic, making transmission very easy, specially in people that are sexually active and have several sex partners. So, it is very important to find a more effective form of prevention in order to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer among the world.

Fighting against cancer: an anti-HPV vaccine

In recent years, 2006 to be more specific, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a vaccine to prevent HPV infection.

Nowadays, there are two vaccines available in the market, Cervarix and Gardasil. The first one is a bivalent vaccine, because it protects against the infection of two HPV types, the 16 and 18 types. Gardasil on the other hand, protects against these two and also against the 6 and 11 HPV types.

The vaccine can be administered to girls from 9 years of age up to women of 26. The treatment includes three shots of the vaccine over a period of six months, offering protection against the virus for four to five years.

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