Human Papillomavirus in Teenagers

By Laura Agadoni
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It's common for teenagers and people in their early 20s to get human papillomavirus, which is spread through sexual activity. In fact, HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, and is passed through vaginal, anal and oral sex, according to the Center for Young Women's Health at Children's Hospital Boston. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 79 million people, mostly in their teens and 20s, have it.

Usually Harmless

HPV is so common that many people have it and don't even know. The earlier people become sexually active and the more partners they have, the more likely they are to get HPV. Most sexually active people have had or will get HPV at some point in their lives, according to the CDC. The infection goes away 90 percent of the time in about two years with no incident. More than 40 types of HPV exist, however, and the infection can cause some serious health problems, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. Doctors cannot predict who will have problems from HPV and who won't.

Possible Health Problems

When HPV persists, health problems are more likely to occur. Besides genital warts, warts could grow in the throat. And besides cervical cancer, HPV can cause genital cancers or throat cancer. Different strains of the virus cause warts versus cancer. All cases of genital warts and most cases of cervical cancer are from HPV. The best action to take if you have HPV is to have regular checkups from a doctor. Pap tests can detect cell changes that might lead to cervical cancer, and the cells can then be treated before they become cancer.

Vaccine

HPV can be prevented by getting a vaccine before adolescence. The CDC recommends 11- to 12-year-old girls and boys get the vaccine. The vaccines are safe and can prevent the types of HPV that lead to warts and cancer. It takes six months and three shot sessions to be fully protected. Even if children don't get the vaccine at ages 11 or 12, they can still get it between the ages of 13 and 26. Though condoms can lower the risk of getting HPV, they don't fully protect against it.

Vaccine Resistance

Although the HPV vaccine is safe and effective in preventing HPV, many parents don't want to vaccinate their children, according to a 2013 "USA Today" article. In 2010, only about 32 percent of girls had the vaccine. Those figures apply to girls only because the vaccine was not widely recommended for boys until after 2010. Some parents don't want to admit that their teens might be sexually active and believe the vaccine is therefore unnecessary. But the CDC recommends that boys and girls get the vaccine before they become sexually active.