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Earlier this year I was vaccinated against HPV. Are there other STI vaccines I should have?
Kudos for getting your HPV vaccination! That’s a smart and safe way to greatly reduce your risk. Some types of HPV can cause different types of cancer, including cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, and anus. (Some other HPV types, not linked with cancer, cause genital warts.) HPV is very common; most sexually active people have at least one HPV infection in their lifetimes so vaccination is recommended for all teen and young adult males and females, and may be used through age 26.
Hepatitis B is another infection transmitted mainly through sexual contact for which a highly effective vaccine is available. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that affects the liver. There are about 19,000 new hepatitis B infections in the U.S. each year. Hepatitis B begins as an acute infection, meaning it’s often a short-term illness from which people recover.
In some cases, hepatitis B remains in the body and becomes a long-term or chronic infection. The younger a person is when he/she contracts hepatitis B the more likely he/she to develop a chronic infection.
Hepatitis B virus is transmitted through direct contact with fluids such as blood, semen, and vaginal secretions. In addition to sex (the most common route of infection in adults), hepatitis B can be transmitted through sharing needles, razors, or even toothbrushes with someone who’s infected. Infants can also contract the virus during childbirth if their mother is infected.
Hepatitis B is not spread through sharing cups and utensils, or through hugging, shaking hands, or breastfeeding.
The hepatitis B vaccine gives great protection against the virus. The vaccine is given in a series of 3-4 injections over six months and is fine for anyone who desires protection against hepatitis B. The vaccine is specifically recommended for:
- Infants and children under age 19
- Men who have sex with men
- Sexual partners of those with hepatitis B
- Injecting drug users who share needles, syringes, or other equipment
- Healthcare workers
- Travelers to areas where hepatitis B is common
- Patients with chronic liver disease
For someone who hasn’t been vaccinated and has a recent exposure to someone with acute hepatitis B, an injection of hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) might keep them from becoming ill. This shot can provide protection for up to three months.
There’s also a vaccine for hepatitis A. Hepatitis A affects the liver, too, but unlike hepatitis A isn’t known to cause chronic issues and is seldom dangerous. Hepatitis A is spread through oral contact with feces, usually through contaminated food or water supplies. Hepatitis A is less often transmitted sexually, primarily through oral-anal contact (called rimming). CDC recommends hepatitis A vaccination for all children, men who have sex with men, and anyone using illegal drugs. Those traveling to areas with high rates of hepatitis A are also urged to be vaccinated.
—The STI Resource Center Staff