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    HPV and the HPV vaccine – WHY CARE?

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | January 10th, 2016

    HPV and the HPV vaccine – WHY CARE?

    After last week’s blog, I was approached by one of our sisters in the family that I had not clearly defined HPV. Thanks for the feedback. I am grateful that you felt empowered to ask for more information and I would encourage all who have questions to ask.

    HPV stands for human papillomavirus. It is a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. There are over 100 types of HPV that have been identified. They each have a number.  About 40 are sexually transmitted. HPV 6 and 11 are considered low risk and are responsible for 90% of the causes of genital warts. HPV 16 and 18 which are the high risk HPV are responsible for 70 % of the causes of cervical cancer. Other high risk HPV including 16 and 18 are associated with vaginal and vulva cancers in females and anal cancer in females and males.

    HPV is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. It is commonly spread during vaginal and anal sex; however, it can be transmitted without penetration, just by contact or through oral sex.

    Most people, females and males will be infected with the HPV in their lifetime. Many people who have HPV do not know they have the virus. The good news is that for most people, they do not have symptoms and the virus clears without consequence.

    One of the ways to help prevent HPV infection is to get the HPV vaccine.  Most people ask me why I feel so strongly about this vaccine. I tell them to think that there is a vaccine that has the potential to prevent certain cancers is powerful. Also, genital warts are really hard to get rid of even with treatment.

    There are three types of vaccines that have been FDA approved. There is the bivalent vaccine known as Cervarix that protects against HPV 16 and 18. There is the quadravalent vaccine known as Gardasil that protects against HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18.  There is the third vaccine, the 9- valent vaccine known as Gardasil 9 which protects against the same 4 HPVs and an additional 5 more high risk HPV types helping to further decrease the risk of the cancers associated with HPV.

    The vaccine is approved for female and males ages 9 – 26 years old. Ideally the vaccine should be given at ages 11 – 12 years before they have had any exposure to HPV. You can still get the vaccine even if you are older, even if you have had sex and even if you are known to have HPV.  The vaccine is given in 3 injections over 6 months. The side effects are pain, swelling, itching, bruising, and redness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and fainting. When you get the vaccine, you will be asked to stay in the office for an additional 15 minutes to be observed.

    Making the decision to get the HPV vaccine or any other vaccine is a decision that needs to be made between you and your physician. You should make that decision after you have been fully educated and all your questions answered. For some of you over 18 years old, you will be making this decision for yourself. For others, you will have to make the decision for your child. I have often been asked have my children been vaccinated. My two older children – my son and daughter have been vaccinated and completed the series. My youngest child had an allergic reaction after her first shot and was not able to complete the series. Choosing to give the HPV vaccine to my children made sense to me. To know that I can in any way help prevent cancer in my children was important. I am also aware of how difficult it is to treat genital warts so if I can prevent them for getting warts that was a plus.

    Getting the HPV vaccine does not mean you are having sex or will it make you sexually active. Getting the HPV vaccine does not mean that you do not need a pap smear – you still need to get your pap smear when you are due.  Getting the HPV vaccine does not prevent all cervical, vaginal, vulva or anal cancers but it can prevent most of them.

    There are other steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of getting HPV – using condoms correctly and consistently is important and limiting the amount of sexual partners.

    For more information please click the following: HPV



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