How To Understand the HPV Vaccine

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common viral infection transmitted by sexual intercourse and genital contact.  There are many different strains of HPV and some of them increase a woman's risk for genital warts and cervical cancer.  These HPV types have also been associated with an increase in other genital cancers such as cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva.  Recently a vaccine that protects against four types of HPV has been developed-together, these four types of HPV are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.  Here is what you should know about Human Papillomavirus and the HPV vaccine:

  1. At least half of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives!  Both men and women can get HPV.
  2. In over 90 percent of cases, an HPV infection goes away without treatment and many of its sufferers are never aware that they have an infection at all.  This means that a woman can be exposed to a cancer-causing virus without even being aware of her exposure.  
  3. The recently-developed HPV vaccine protects against four types of HPV.  The vaccine is nearly 100% effective in preventing disease caused by the four HPV types in girls who have never been exposed to HPV before.  This means that for best results, females should receive the vaccine before they become sexually active. Girls who have not yet been exposed to the four HPV types covered by the vaccine will receive full protection from these types.
  4. The vaccine is less effective in preventing disease in girls who have already been exposed to HPV.  There is not yet a test to determine if a woman has been exposed to HPV.
  5. The vaccine has been tested in over 11,000 young females (aged 9-26) from all over the world.   The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the HPV vaccine.
  6. The vaccine is not currently available to women over the age of 26 .
  7. It is not clear whether condoms provide protection against HPV.
  8. The HPV vaccine is administered in a three-shot series over a period of six months.  The second dose should be administered 2 months after the first dose, and the third dose should be administered 6 months after the first dose. 

Personally, I cannot see any reason to deny one's daughter the opportunity to protect herself from potentially fatal cancers of her reproductive system.  I strongly encourage parents of adolescent (or pre-adolescent) girls to do their children the favor of vaccinating them before they begin sexual activity.   In the future, the HPV vaccine may also be available to males, so stay tuned for more developments on the HPV vaccine front. 


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