HPV Prevention

Because many people are infected with human papillomavirus without knowing it, abstinence (i.e., not having sex—including anal and oral sex) is the only sure way to prevent genital HPV infection. Other ways to reduce the risk for contracting HPV include limiting the number of sexual partners and choosing a partner who has had a limited number of sexual partners.

Although the use of condoms can help prevent HPV infection to areas of skin that are covered, the virus can be transmitted through any exposed areas. Practicing safer sex also can help prevent reduce the risk for genital HPV infection.

HPV Vaccination

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the vaccine Gardasil® for use in girls and young women between the ages of 9 and 26. Gardasil can help prevent infection from four types of HPV: 6, 11, 16, and 18. In October 2009, the FDA approved this vaccine for use in boys and men between the ages of 9 and 26 to prevent genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11.

Approximately 70 percent of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV types 16 and 18. HPV types 6 and 11 cause about 90 percent of all cases of genital warts. According to the FDA Office of Women’s Health, Gardasil is 95–100 percent effective in preventing these types of HPV.

Gardasil does not contain any form of the actual human papillomavirus, live or dead; instead, it contains substances that behave like HPV, allowing the body to build resistance to the virus.

The vaccine is administered in three doses. The first dose is administered at a time determined by the physician and the patient, or if the young person is under the age of 18, the patient's parent or guardian. The second dose is administered 2 months after the first dose and the third dose is administered 6 months after the first dose.

Studies have shown that this vaccine causes few side effects. Some patients experience nausea, dizziness, and a low-grade fever (below 101°F). Temporary soreness, redness, or itching at the vaccination site also is possible.

Gardasil is most effective when it is administered before a person becomes sexually active. The vaccine does not provide protection against a specific type of HPV after infection with that type has occurred. However, vaccination is still recommended, even if the person has already contracted HPV because it can protect against other types of the virus.

In December 2014, the FDA approved Gardasil 9. This vaccine protects against nine types of HPV and may prevent 90 percent of cases of vulvar, cervical, vaginal, and anal cancers. Gardasil 9 is approved for use in girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26 and boys and young men aged 9 through 15.

It is important to note that the HPV vaccine does not treat HPV infection or related health problems. It also does not prevent all types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, so all women should still have regular Pap tests.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 26 May 2008

Last Modified: 22 Sep 2015