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Traveler Summary

Key Points

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a viral infection acquired through sexual contact.
  • Risk exists for unvaccinated, sexually active travelers.
  • Symptoms in both males and females include lesions in or on the skin, genitals, or mucous membranes.
  • Consequences of infection may include cancer of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, or throat.
  • Prevention includes sexual abstinence; condoms are not fully protective.
  • HPV vaccine is given to both females and males up to age 26 years whether or not they have been sexually active. Vaccination requires a 2- or 3-dose series over a period of 6 months, depending on age at series initiation.
  • Vaccine side effects include fever and local reactions only.
  • Vaccine protection is long lasting; no booster dose is recommended.

Introduction

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S. HPV infections range from common benign genital warts to cancers of the genital area, anus, and back of the throat (oropharyngeal) in men and women. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide. Although there are treatments available for the health problems caused by HPV, no cure exists for HPV infection itself.

Risk Areas

HPVs are common throughout the world. In the U.S., approximately 79 million people are currently infected with HPV and another 14 million become infected each year. At least 50% of sexually active men and women become infected at some point in their lives.

Transmission

HPV is sexually transmitted through genital and skin-to-skin contact or oral sex. Rarely, a pregnant woman with genital HPV infection can pass the infection to her newborn during delivery.

Risk Factors

Unvaccinated, sexually active males and females are at risk for HPV infection. Certain populations (e.g., men who have sex with men or persons with HIV) may have a lower immune response to the vaccine.

Symptoms

Most people infected with HPV do not develop symptoms. In 70% to 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within 2 years. HPV infections that are not cleared can cause genital warts or warts in the throat.

Consequences of Infection

HPV infection increases the risk for developing cancer of the cervix (most common), vagina, penis, anus, or throat, but identifying which cases will progress to cancer is not possible.

Need for Medical Assistance

No treatment exists for the virus itself, but treatments are available for diseases caused by HPV.

HPV vaccines are not intended to be used for treatment, and they only protect against the HPV types contained in the vaccines.

Prevention

Nonvaccine: The most effective way to avoid HPV infection, in addition to vaccination, is avoidance of sexual contact. Condoms are not fully protective.

Vaccine: HPV vaccine protects against some of the most common types of HPV that can lead to warts, disease, and cancer. The vaccine is most effective when given at age 11 or 12 years. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered before potential exposure to HPV through sexual activity; however, persons who are sexually active should still be vaccinated.

Only 1 HPV vaccine (Gardasil 9) is currently available in the U.S.

Vaccination is not a substitute for regular cervical cancer screening in women.

Duration of protection from HPV vaccination is long lasting; booster doses are not recommended.

Persons with any concerns should speak to their health care provider before vaccine administration.

Side effects: Mild side effects including fever, local reactions, or headache may occur. More significant side effects are rare.

Timing: This vaccine is given as a 2- or 3-dose series over a period of 6-12 months, depending on age at series initiation.