Often when we talk about STDs, the focus is on symptoms and tests, but vaccines also play a big role in preventing two types of STD’s:
Hepatitis B (HBV) – a virus that can cause a chronic liver infection
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – a virus that can cause genital warts
Both of these viruses can be spread through sexual activity, as well as other routes – HBV through blood and body fluids; HPV through skin to skin contact. Both can be spread by people with little or no symptoms. And both can cause cancer. Hepatitis B can cause liver cancer, while HPV can cause cancer of the cervix and anus, and there is increasing evidence to support a role in causing cancer in the mouth, throat and penis.
Hepatitis B vaccine has been around for years, and has been included as a required vaccine for children in many areas so most of you have probably been vaccinated.
HPV vaccine has been licensed since 2006 for females from 9-26 years old. The vaccine was introduced only for women because the original research was focused on using the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer as well as warts. More recently, the vaccine has been made available to males 9-26 years old, and research is continuing to see if the vaccine is useful for older adults.
Vaccines prevent infections, they cannot reverse an infection you already have. This is why it’s a good reason for adolescents to get vaccinated either before they become sexually active, or early in their sexual life. The two current HPV vaccines cover 2-4 particular serotypes of HPV, so it’s not too late to consider it if you’ve already become sexually active; if you are already infected with one serotype, the vaccine will still be effective at preventing infection with others.
Take a look at the STD Low-Down page at GYT for more information.
Best of Health!
Roger Miller, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University