In June 2006, the FDA approved a vaccine against human papillomavirus for use in women. The currently available vaccine (several pharmaceutical companies are developing a version) targets HPV strains 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts - as well as the major cervical cancerâcausing strains, 16 and 18. Given as a set of three shots over six months, the vaccine will protect against only those four strains, and will not cure existing infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added the HPV vaccine to its official vaccination recommendations in July 2006. It proposed that all 11- and 12-year-old American girls get the shots, although girls as young as 9 could receive it if theyâre sexually active. For âcatch-up,â the CDC also recommends that girls and women ages 13â26 be vaccinated against HPV, regardless of their Pap test results.
The vaccine works best before an individual has been exposed to HPV. Early vaccination provides the greatest chance of preventing cervical cancer. Older girls and young women were included in the CDC recommendations because even if theyâve had some exposure to HPV, it may not be to the strains contained in the vaccine, so theyâll get some protection.
More studies are needed before recommendations can be made for women older than 26 and for males. Obviously men canât get cervical cancer, but vaccinating males might curb HPV transmission and protect them from HPV-related genital and anal cancers.
There is no definite way to prevent all HPV infections. To lower your risk as much as possible, always use condoms and other barrier methods, such as dental dams for mouth-to-genital contact, for protection. If you or someone you know has a wart, avoid skin-to-skin contact with the wart.
Over-the-counter ointments, lotions and plasters are available to treat common skin warts. Do not use them for warts on the face, genitals or anus. They should not be used by people with diabetes, poor circulation or infected warts. Over-the-counter remedies use strong chemicals to slowly destroy the wart over a period of weeks or months. For faster and more lasting treatment, your doctor may try several procedures, including:
Removing the wart surgically
Freezing the wart (cryosurgery)
Cauterizing the wart using electricity
Applying stronger surface (topical) medications