Chances are if you are a parent of a tween or teen, you have been offered or even chosen to get your child vaccinated against HPV or human papilloma virus. Have you thought about why this vaccine is so important? Nicole Haines with Mercy Cancer Center provides an educational message on the HPV vaccination.
What is HPV and how is it contracted?
HPV is the most commonly contracted sexually transmitted disease in the United States. According to the CDC, about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, and 14 million people will become infected each year. Most sexually active people will get at least one type of HPV in their lives. It can be contracted by men or women during sexual activities with exposures to any body cavity. Once it is contracted, the virus can remain dormant and cause local or systemic disease and is generally recurrent throughout one’s lifespan. Besides complete abstinence, the HPV vaccine is the single most effective way to prevent infection in both men and women.
The CDC now recommends boys and girls ages 11 -12 get the vaccine as part of the routine wellness care. Males up to age 21 and females up to age 26 are recommended to get the HPV vaccine if they missed it during their younger years. Gay or bisexual men through age 26 and all immunocompromised through age 26 are recommended to get the vaccine. (http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm)
What are the implications of HPV?
Most of the time, there are no signs or symptoms of HPV. However, HPV can cause genital warts and cancers such as cervical, vaginal, oral, pharyngeal or anal. Please note that HPV is not the only cause of these cancers, but it is the biggest preventable risk factor for developing them. Additionally, people with lowered immune systems such as people with HIV infection or those taking immunotherapies for any reason have an even greater chance of developing HPV infection related disease or cancer.
What to do if you haven’t been vaccinated
Women should get screened for cervical cancer at their annual Pap test. It’s important to discuss the frequency of Pap tests with your doctor. A mutually monogamous relationship is the best form of HPV infection prevention.
Dispelling the HPV vaccine myth
Some people have said that by getting a child immunized the parent is actually encouraging early or pre-marital sexual activity. Health care professionals feel this is far from the truth and believe that prevention is far better than trying to cure a disease. Parents must continue to teach children their values and beliefs about relationships and sexual activity.
More information about HPV or the vaccine can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm.
If you have any questions about HPV related cancers, please contact a Mercy Cancer Nurse Navigator at 330-430-2788.