Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI) made up of more than 150 related viruses. It is so common, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately 14 million Americans — teenagers, too — get the virus each year.
Up until recently, Gardasil 9, an HPV vaccine that works against nine different types of HPV, had only been approved for women and men between the ages of nine and 26. However, on October 5, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that Gardasil 9 has been approved for women and men between 27 and 45 years old. This is huge news, as the maximum age of people who can now get the vaccine has nearly doubled. It’s a big win not only for women and men’s sexual health, but for their overall health, too.
“Today’s approval represents an important opportunity to help prevent HPV-related diseases and cancers in a broader age range,” Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement announcing the news. ”The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] has stated that HPV vaccination prior to becoming infected with the HPV types covered by the vaccine has the potential to prevent more than 90 percent of these cancers, or 31,200 cases every year, from ever developing.”
HPV can lead to certain types of cancers, particularly cervical in women and oral HPV in men. So the fact that the vaccination age has been increased will likely prevent more people from getting HPV, as well as HPV-related illnesses.
"Now, men and women up to 45 years old can be protected against this highly contagious and dangerous virus,” Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of she-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells Bustle. “If everyone up to age 45 years old has access to getting vaccinated, we could eradicate precancerous and cancer not only involving the cervix but also the anus, penis, head, neck, throat or other health risks associated with HPV.”
How HPV Is Transmitted
Dr. Ross says that if you have HPV, you're not alone. “This is because it is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), with over 90 percent of women and 80 percent of men exposed to it,” she says. She adds that HPV is an epidemic and highly contagious. “But there is absolutely no reason to feel shameful if you tested positive for HPV — it’s easily and innocently transmitted.”
HPV is easily spread from person-to-person through sexual contact during vaginal, anal, and oral sex, Dr. Ross says. However, Dr. Michael Krychman, MD, OB/GYN, sexual medicine gynecologist and the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine and co-author of The Sexual Spark: 20 Essential Exercises to Reignite the Passion, tells Bustle that most cases of HPV are cleared from the body before people get warts — also known as papillomas — or complications from HPV. However, it’s cause for concern when the body does not clear the infection. So, this is where the HPV vaccine comes into play.
The History Of HPV Vaccines
According to the FDA, Gardasil had been the vaccine approved by the FDA in 2006 to help prevent certain cancers and diseases caused by four HPV types. However, it is no longer distributed in the U.S. Gardasil 9 was approved by the FDA in 2014 and protects against the same four HPV types as Gardasil, as well as five more HPV strains. In a study among 3,200 women 27 to 45 years old, followed for an average of 3.5 years, Gardasil was 88 percent effective “in the prevention of a combined endpoint of persistent infection, genital warts, vulvar and vaginal precancerous lesions, cervical precancerous lesions, and cervical cancer related to HPV types covered by the vaccine,” states the FDA. The FDA approving Gardasil 9 for women 27 to 45 years of age is based on this study and longer-term follow-up from it.
“To lower your risk of HPV, you must get vaccinated,” Dr. Ross says. “The real beauty of this vaccine is, when taken as directed, it can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of women and men of all ages for generations to come.” So, if you haven’t yet gotten the HPV vaccine and are within the age range to do so, there’s no time like the present.