For teens, the lazy days of summer mean catching up on sleep and hanging out with friends. It also can be a great time for teens to take care of their health by visiting their family doctor or a health clinic and getting necessary vaccines and education on safe sex, says a Baylor College of Medicine expert on teen health.
“Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the most common viral sexually transmitted infections (STI),” said Dr. Ruth Buzi, director of social services at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic and associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor. “At some point in their lives, nearly all sexually active men and women get HPV. Fortunately, there is now an HPV vaccine available for young men and women.”
HPV is transmitted through sex and also can be spread through skin contact with someone who has HPV. Symptoms can show up weeks, months or years after contact, but most people may have no symptoms, Buzi said.
Some types of HPV cause genital warts, which are small and bumpy around the sex organs and anus. Other types of HPV can cause different types of cancer.
The vaccine consists of three shots over six months and is effective for boys and girls. It protects against two different types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers, 70 percent of vaginal cancers and up to 50 percent of vulvar cancers. The vaccine also protects from penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancers.
While the HPV vaccine is important for sexual health, there’s lots more for teens to consider, Buzi said. She offers some important reminders:
- Talk to your partner about previous partners, STI testing and any shared needle use.
- Remember that condoms are the only birth control that prevent STIs. Use latex condoms with a water-based lubricant every time you engage in sex, or if you or your partner is allergic to latex, use plastic (polyurethane) condoms.
- Research the different types of STIs so you can be on the lookout for signs and symptoms. If you are concerned about anything, see a doctor.
- Remember, most STIs show no signs or symptoms.
- Get tested! It’s better to know than to wonder if you have contracted a sexually transmitted infection.
- Remember that abstinence – not having sex – is the only sure way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
Teens can get more information from a health care professional. In Houston, the Baylor Teen Health Clinics are a great resource for teens. Find more information on the clinics, including locations and contact numbers, at www.teenhealthclinic.org.