One important prevention tool against sexually transmitted infections is vaccination. Currently, vaccines are available to protect against infection with HPV, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Other vaccines are under development, including those for HIV and herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Hepatitis B virus can be passed on by body fluids (semen, vaginal secretions, and blood) and is most often transmitted through sexual contact. It can also be contracted when injecting drug users share needles and other injecting equipment.
While hepatitis B can cause a mild illness, it can also be a more serious chronic infection, with complications including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and even liver cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hepatitis B vaccination for:
- Sex partners of anyone who has hepatitis B
- Anyone who is sexually active but not in a long-term, monogamous relationship
- Those treated for STD/STIs
- Men who have sex with men
- Others recommended for hepatitis B vaccine include:
- All infants and children under age 19 who have not had the vaccine
- Injecting drug users who share needles
- Those living in households with someone who has hepatitis B
- Anyone whose work places them in contact with blood
- Those with HIV or chronic liver disease
- Individuals in correctional facilities
- Travelers to areas with a high prevalence of hepatitis B
Three or four shots over six months.
The hepatitis B vaccine is safe, and the most commonly reported side effect is soreness at the injection site. Those completing the series have greater than 90% protection against hepatitis B.
Hepatitis A is transmitted primarily through oral contact with feces (oral-fecal contact). This includes contaminated food or water sources and sexual contact, especially oral-anal sex.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hepatitis A vaccination for all children and adolescents, as well as people who are at increased risk for hepatitis, including:
- International travelers
- Men who have sex with men
- People who use or inject drugs
- People with occupational risk for exposure
- People who anticipate close personal contact with an international adoptee
- People experiencing homelessness
Others recommended for hepatitis A vaccine:
- Anyone traveling to an area with a high prevalence of hepatitis A
- Those with hepatitis B or C
Two shots, six months apart. A hepatitis A/hepatitis B combination vaccine can also be given to adults. The combined vaccine is given in three doses over six months.
The hepatitis A vaccine is effective and provides long-term protection after the second dose. Soreness at the injection site is the most common side effect reported.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of viruses that infect the skin. There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Certain types of HPV cause warts on the hands or feet, and other types can cause warts on the genitals. Some types of genital HPV may cause genital warts, while other types of genital HPV are linked to abnormal cell changes on the cervix (detected through Pap tests) that can lead to cervical cancer. HPV vaccine can protect against types of HPV that cause most cases of warts and those that cause most cervical cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all boys and girls get HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. The vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. Catch up vaccination is recommended up to age 26.
HPV vaccine is also available for adults ages 27-45. Adults in this age group should talk to their healthcare provider about whether they should consider vaccination.
Up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required—one shot followed by a second 6-12 months later. For those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed—three shots given over 6 months.
HPV vaccines are safe. The most commonly reported side effects include pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site. Some patients report fainting, so those receiving the vaccine are encouraged to wait at least 15 minutes before leaving the clinic or medical office.
HPV infections and cervical precancers have dropped significantly since the vaccine has been in use. Among teen girls, infections with HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 86 percent. In young adult women, infections with HPV types that cause most HPV cancers and genital warts have dropped 71 percent.
Why I Vaccinate
Maria Trent, MD, MPH, knows the importance of vaccinating adolescents against HPV. She shares her experiences treating HPV disease and explains why vaccination is “a gift” for our children.