The HPV Vaccine

November 12, 2012

The HPV Vaccine

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus and is a sexually transmitted disease of around 40 different strains that affects the genital area of men and women, and can cause cancers of the throat, cervix, penis and anus. It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity. The disease is sometimes called Genital Human Papillomavirus, and most types of the disease will disappear of their own accord. However, some strains are responsible for most types of cervical cancer in young women, as well as things like genital warts and penile cancers in men.

Currently, there is an HPV vaccine called Cervarix, created by GlaxoSmithKine that is used primarily to vaccinate young women against contracting cervical cancer due to sexual activity with HPV infected partners. The HPV vaccine is recommended for young women between the ages of 11-12 right up to the age of 26, and can also be administered to girls as young as age 9. Either type of vaccine can be administered (see below) but ideally this should be prior to any kind of sexual activity, as sexually active individuals will not benefit from the vaccine to the same extent as non-sexually active individuals will, although it will still provide some protection.

The other HPV vaccine is called Gardasil, and is used to vaccinate young men under the age of 26 as a preventative against HPV-induced genital warts and anal cancers. Gardasil can also prevent vulvar and vaginal cancers in women, and was created by the pharmaceutical company Merck. Both of these vaccines are administered via 3 injections given over a six month period.

Once they have received the HPV vaccine, individuals should still be regularly screened for cancer. This is especially applicable to sexually active young women. 12,000 women every year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and out of those, 4,000 women die each year as a result of the disease. The vaccines are very effective in protecting against certain strains of HPV, but it must be remembered that the vaccines do not protect against all strains of the virus. It should also be noted that around 30% of cervical cancers are non-HPV-related, and so cannot be protected against by the HPV vaccine.

Research has suggested that the effects of the vaccination are long-lasting, so you only need the initial 3 injections over a 6 month period to be vaccinated against certain HPV strains for a long period of time.

The HPV vaccine in both instances has been licensed by the FDA and approved as safe by the CDC – the safety of the vaccines continues to be guarded and monitored by these two governing bodies, and although some mild side effects have been observed, the drugs pose no serious safety concerns. The most common of the two vaccines in the United States is Gardasil – most administrations of the HPV vaccine have been Gardasil. It is recommended that young men and women between the ages of 9 and 26 have the vaccine given to them, as it is most effective during this age range.

Other ways to prevent HPV include limiting your sexual partners and being in a faithful, monogamous relationship as well as using condoms to lower the chance of contracting HPV and HPV-related diseases however they are not entirely effective due to HPV affecting areas around the genitals that may not be covered by a condom. The only way to be guaranteed never to contract HPV is by avoiding all sexual activity, as you can never know if a partner has it or not due to the unpredictability of the disease and its invisibility in tests.

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