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Home News March 4 marks International HPV Awareness Day and urges early vaccination and prevention
David Morgan
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March 4 marks International HPV Awareness Day and urges early vaccination and prevention

SANTA FE – About 85% of people nationwide will get a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in their lifetime – often without even knowing it. The New Mexico Department of Health’s (NMDOH) Immunization Program reports that vaccination of all 11–12-year-olds can protect them long before they are ever exposed. 
March 4 is International HPV Awareness Day, providing an opportunity to talk about how HPV may be avoidable altogether and the serious consequences when early vaccination or, years later, symptoms or opportunities for screenings are ignored. 
“You can get HPV from skin-to-skin sexual contact. What makes it unique among sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is most HPV infections have no symptoms and are harmless,” said STD Program Manager Janine Waters. “The immune system usually gets rid of the virus within two years, but when it doesn’t, the virus can cause healthy cells to change over time. Those cells, left untreated, can eventually lead to cancer.” 

Vaccination against HPV can be completed potentially over decades:

  • Routine vaccination generally begins around 11-12 years of age, providing the most benefit before a person is exposed to any HPV. HPV vaccine is not required for entry into New Mexico public schools but is strongly recommended. In 2023, 66% of youth 9-14 years received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine. For teens 15-18 that vaccination rate was 83%. 
  • HPV vaccination is also recommended through age 26 years for everyone who did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger. Catch up vaccinations help prevent new HPV infections but do not treat existing infections or diseases. 

With HPV-related cancers, it usually takes many years for cancer to develop, and it may be difficult to treat. They include cancers of the: 

  • Cervix (part of the womb; cervical cancer). 
  • Anus (anal cancer). 
  • Back of the throat (oropharynx) or mouth (oropharyngeal cancer). 
  • Vulva and vagina (vulvar and vaginal cancer).  
  • Penis (penile cancer). 

The types of HPV that can cause cancer usually don’t have symptoms, and there’s no screening test to detect most of these cancers. However, as NMDOH reported in January, cervical cancer screening is highly effective in detecting abnormal cells in the cervix and is easily treatable if caught early. 

For one New Mexico Department of Health employee, it is more than a public health observance, it’s a chance to tell everyone how virus protection is cancer prevention too.

“Since surviving HPV oropharyngeal (throat) cancer two years ago, I have made it my mission to spread the word about vaccinations against HPV and how they save lives,” said Micky Cariño, DOH Developmental Disabilities Support Division Eligibility Worker. “My HPV throat cancer nearly killed me. No one should have to go through what I have. That is why I tell my story every chance I get.”  

Consistent condom use reduces (but does not eliminate) the risk of getting HPV. Using condoms 100% of the time reduces the risk of spreading HPV by about 70%. 

You can learn more about HPV, its risks, the benefits of vaccination and additional tips to protect you and your partner from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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El 4 de marzo se celebra el Día Internacional de Concienciación sobre el VPH y se insta a la vacunación y prevención temprana