HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, affecting 79 million Americans. Most sexually active persons (80%, to be exact) will, at some point, be exposed to HPV.

You may already know that HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is a sexually transmitted virus that often does not have any symptoms. The good news is that in the majority of cases, HPV goes away on its own without any intervention; however, the trouble is that when HPV does not resolve, it can cause certain health problems like genital warts, abnormal pap smears, and — if left untreated for years— certain types of cancers.

How can I prevent HPV-related health problems?

The HPV vaccine (most often referred to as “Gardasil”) was developed in 2006 and initially was recommended for young women and men up to age 26. 

This first version of Gardasil provided protection from 4 strains of HPV- types 6 and 11, which cause genital warts, and types 16 and 18, which cause more than 70% of HPV-related cancers (cervical, vaginal, head/neck, and anal cancers to name a few).

In 2017, the updated version of Gardasil, called “Gardasil-9” was released, providing protection against 9 strains of HPV.

The additional 5 HPV strains covered include types 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, which are additional strains that cause the majority of cancers, and the vaccine was available again for individuals up to age 26.

What can adults do to prevent HPV-related health issues?

What about adults over the age of 26? Are there options to prevent HPV-related health problems?

Earlier this year, big news came out when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approved the Gardasil vaccine for adults ages 27 to 45.

It is important to know that the vaccine does not prevent or protect from PRIOR HPV exposures, but provides benefit to protect from FUTURE exposures. For this reason, the CDC did not put out a blanket recommendation for ALL adults to receive the vaccine (most of these adults have probably already been exposed to HPV).

However, the vaccine certainly provides some benefit for certain individuals and it is important to consider individual circumstances. 

For example, some adults in this updated age range might have already aged out of the recommended age group for the Gardasil vaccine when it first became available in 2006.

Additionally, because there are many strains of HPV, the vaccine could provide protection against “new” strains for that particular person.

Another consideration is relationship status or sexual practices. For a person who may have had the same partner for many years and is newly re-entering the dating world, the Gardasil-9 vaccine could provide great benefit. 

As always, it is important to discuss your unique health care needs with your Health Care Provider to determine what is best for you.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC recently began covering the Gardasil vaccine as a preventative health service for adults (men and women) ages 27 to 45, which is excellent news for our patients at Kamm McKenzie OBGYN!

It is expected that other insurers will follow suit in the near future, as is typically what happens with insurance coverage.