The CDC released a new (and potentially controversial) recommendation this week, stating that boys as young as 11 and 12 should be vaccinated against HPV. The genital human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection. According to the 2011 study, “Human Papillomavirus Type Distribution Among Heterosexual Couples,” from the Journal of Lower Genital Tract Diseases, researchers found that of the 29 couples enrolled in the study, 75.9 percent of men and 86.2 percent of women tested positive for HPV.
What is HPV?
There are more than 40 different types of HPV that can infect the throat, mouth, and genital area of males and females via sexual activity. The CDC states: in 90 percent of cases, the immune system will fight off the virus without the victim ever knowing that he or she had HPV. However, in other cases, you may develop genital warts and types of cancer. In the study, “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of HPV Vaccination of Young Men,” from the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers state that in the United States, HPV is a contributing factor to approximately 20,000 cases of invasive cancer. There is no cure for HPV, but there are treatment options for the health problems that are caused by HPV. Using condoms, getting vaccinated, and staying faithful to your partner are ways that both men and women can prevent the spread of HPV.
HPV and Men
HPV in men can cause anal cancer, penile cancer, and throat and mouth cancers. The CDC reports that in the United States about 400 men will be diagnosed with HPV-related penile cancer, 1,500 men will be diagnosed with HPV-associated anal cancer and 5,600 men will be diagnosed with HPV-related throat, tonsil and tongue cancers (some of these cases may also be related to tobacco and alcohol use) every year.
HPV Vaccine Recommendations and Safety
The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, prevents four of the most common strains of HPV that cause genital warts and cancers associated with HPV. The vaccine does not treat or cure cancer or genital warts. The vaccine is most effective when it is given before sexual activity begins, before the body’s immune system has had a chance to come into contact with the virus.
In 2006, the CDC recommended that girls and young women, ages 11 to 26 should be vaccinated against HPV. On October 25, 2011, the CDC made a further recommendation that boys ages 11 and 12 should be vaccinated against HPV. The course of vaccination includes three different doses spread out over 6 months. Youth between the ages of 13 and 21 should also receive the vaccine as well, according to the CDC’s current recommendations.
In response to voiced concerns over the safety of the vaccine, Dr. Anne Schuchat, M.D., Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC spoke in a CDC press briefing on October 25, 2011.
“The committee also undertook extensive review of data on vaccine safety. Through middle of September nearly 40 million doses of HPV vaccine have been distributed in the United States. The clinical trials that have been carried out in smaller numbers have shown the quadrivalent HPV vaccine to be safe for males as well as for females. The most common adverse events or side effects that can occur following HPV vaccination include injection site reaction, headache and fever, and those reactions have tended to be mild or moderate in intensity.”
Gardiner Harris, of the New York Times, quoted Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine saying, “This is cancer for Pete’s sake. A vaccine against cancer was the dream of our youth.”
GARDASIL HPV Vaccine for Boys
Vaccinating against HPV for both girls and boys is a controversial issue, and can be a tough decision for parents. However, the vaccine’s effectiveness is improved when vaccination takes place prior to sexual activity. According to MERCK, the vaccine manufacturer, the GARDASIL vaccine protects boys against the strand of HPV that causes 90 percent of genital wart cases.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet.” (August 25, 2011). Accessed on October 25, 2011.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “HPV and Men-Fact Sheet.” (August 25, 2011). Accessed on October 25, 2011.
Harris, Gardiner. “Panel Endorses HPV Vaccine for Boys of 11.” New York Times. (October 25, 2011). Accessed on October 26, 2011.
Abalos AT, Harris RB, Nyitray AG, et.al. “Human Papillomavirus Type Distribution Among Heterosexual Couples” Journal of Lower Genital Tract Diseases. (September 29, 2011). Accessed October 26, 2011.
Jane J. Kim, Ph.D. “Weighing the Benefits and Costs of HPV Vaccination of Young Men.” New England Journal of Medicine; 364:393-395. (February 3, 2011). Accessed October 26, 2011.
MERCK & CO. “Learn About GARDASIL.” Accessed on October 26, 2011.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “CDC Vital Signs: ACIP recommends all 11-12 year-old males get vaccinated against HPV.” (October 25, 2011). Accessed October 26, 2011.
*This article is not intended as medical advice. Please discuss the vaccine with your doctor, and be aware of contraindications, such as yeast allergies, prior to choosing a course of action*
Decoding Science. One article at a time.