Myths about Human papillomavirus (HPV)

Kailey Byrnes, 11, winces as registered nurse Janet Stahlman administers an HPV shot at the Allegheny County Health Department vaccine clinic on Aug. 12. (Photo by Heather McCracken)

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of 150 related viruses that are spread through intimate, skin-to-skin contact. The HPV vaccine is a safe, effective cancer prevention tool. Pittsburgh’s Jewish Healthcare Foundation has a strong public health campaign to get the word out on immunization that will protect nearly 100 percent of the otherwise 27,000 cases of HPV-related cancers occurring in the United States annually. The foundation’s website,, highlights some common myths that they want to dispel.
MYTH: HPV only affects girls and young women.
FACT: Some strains can cause genital warts. Some can cause cancers in both males and females. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease.
MYTH: The HPV vaccine has caused many deaths.
FACT: Tens of thousands of people who have received the HPV vaccine have been studied to determine whether the HPV vaccine causes any serious side effects. No link between the vaccine and serious illness or death has been found.
MYTH: People with HPV always have symptoms.
FACT: Most people who have HPV do not have any visible symptoms. People can still pass on the virus even when they do not have any symptoms.
MYTH: The HPV vaccine only lasts for five years.
FACT: The HPV vaccine was licensed in 2006. There has been no evidence of the vaccine becoming less effective over time.
MYTH: The HPV vaccine affects fertility. If given to young girls, it might make them infertile.
FACT: The HPV vaccine has not been shown to cause infertility. In fact, because HPV can cause precancerous or cancerous abnormalities that potentially require medical treatments that may cause infertility, the vaccine could indirectly help protect against it.
Now what? Contact your health care provider or your child’s pediatrician to schedule an appointment. People as young as 9-years-old can be vaccinated. Just recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for people up to age 45.
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