Understanding HPV

By Steven Morgan, M.D., Obstetrician/Gynecologist Jersey Shore University Medical Center HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, has gained much attention since the Gardasil vaccine was approved by the FDA in June 2006. This is the first vaccine developed to help protect girls and young women ages 9 to 26 against some types of cervical cancer and prevent precancerous genital lesions and genital warts due to HPV. “HPV is a very real concern for our community, with statistics showing that an estimated 6.2 million sexually active Americans become infected each year,” says Steven Morgan, M.D., a Board Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Ocean Medical Center. “For most women, the body's own defense system will clear the virus and infected women do not develop related health problems. However, some HPV types can cause abnormal cells on the lining of the cervix that years later can turn into cancer. Other HPV types can cause genital warts.” Here’s what you should know about HPV: HPV is a group of more than 100 kinds of viruses that can cause warts, such as genital warts, and is linked to causing cancer.The most visible symptom is genital warts, which are usually flesh-colored and have a cauliflower-like appearance. Some symptoms may also not be visible or detected. Genital HPV can spread through skin-to-skin contact. It is usually transmitted through vaginal, oral, or anal sexual intercourse with a person who has the virus. There is no guaranteed protection against getting genital HPVs for people who are sexually active because skin-to-skin contact with an infected person can spread it. Using condoms during sexual intercourse does not prevent HPV infection, although condoms can prevent other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. There is no cure for HPV. Doctors will treat genital warts that indicate the virus’s presence. “Young women and parents of girls should speak with their doctors to see if the vaccine is right for them.” advises Dr. Steven Morgan. “Even if vaccinated, it is important for women to continue routine cervical cancer screens.” If you or a loved one is considering the HPV vaccine, you should be aware that:
  • The vaccine is given as three injections over a six-month period.
  • The vaccine is approved for use in females 9-26 years of age.
  • The vaccine does not protect women who are already infected with HPV prior to being vaccinated.
If you or your child need to find a doctor to discuss the HPV vaccination, call 1-800-DOCTORS for a free physician referral.