Should Girls Who Aren’t Sexually Active Be Vaccinated Against HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, a disease that affects about 20 million people in the U.S. and kills about 3,700 people every year.

The root cause of cervical cancer, the genital human papillomavirus (HPV) can occur in men and women alike, almost half of sexually active individual contracting the virus at some point in their lives. Still, not all carriers show signs of infection; depending on the type of HPV one is infected with, the condition can be asymptomatic or can manifest through warts that appear in the genital area or in the upper respiratory tract.

Small or large, raised or flat and sometimes shaped like a cauliflower, these bumps can appear isolated or in groups, and can prevent one from having intimate relationships with their partner. However, it’s worth mentioning that the HPV virus that is responsible for the occurrence of genital warts is not the same as the type that causes cancer. In fact, most HPV infections don’t cause any symptoms and go away on their own, without requiring special treatment.

Of the 150 related HPV viruses, only some lead to warts or cancers, the common types of cancer caused by these viruses affecting the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth and oropharynx (back of the throat). While the warts become visible sooner after the virus is contracted, in people who are infected with the cancer-causing viruses it can take years for the symptoms to appear.

Unfortunately, the virus can be spread even if no symptoms are present, so you can get HPV after having sex with a carrier even if he or she doesn’t “look” infected. Given that HPV is usually transmitted through vaginal, oral or anal sex, lots of young adults and parents whose kids aren’t sexually active consider the HPV vaccine unnecessary.

However, research shows that the vaccine can help protect both females and males against genital warts and HPV-related cancers and has the best chance of doing so if a series of three shots is given before a person becomes sexually active.

WHY AND WHEN SHOULD THE HPV VACCINE BE ADMINISTERED TO YOUNG GIRLS?

Contrary to popular belief, the HPV vaccine is not only for those who are engaged in intimate relationships. Young girls who aren’t sexually active will likely be at some point in their lives, so the vaccine should be administered before they contract the virus, as it can take years for symptoms to become visible and in lots of cases the disease is only detected when the damage has already been done.

To prevent the infection, the HPV vaccine should be administered to girls aged 11 to 12, although some doctors may recommend the administration even earlier, around the age of 9. By getting this vaccine before the first sexual contact, the risk for young girls to contract the virus later in life decreases significantly.

The existing vaccines can protect against four major types of HPV viruses, among which the ones causing warts and cervical cancer. Although the substance is efficient and expected to protect one for several years, it’s still good for sexually active women to undergo cervical cancer screenings regularly. If the substance is administered after a girl has already contracted the virus, it becomes ineffective, regardless of the female’s age.

Given that the virus is transmitted through sexual contact, boys aged 9 to 26 should also be administered the vaccine. The same age interval applies to girls, HPV vaccines being approved by the FDA for use by females aged 9-26. There are, however, a couple of exceptions, and these include girls who are allergic to yeast or other components of the vaccine, as well as pregnant women.

There are no contraindications regarding the administration of the HPV vaccine in breastfeeding women, although, as previously said, the vaccine is more efficient in protecting females against genital warts and cervical cancer when given before their first sexual contact.

By Andreea Macoveiciuc