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Should You Get an HPV Vaccine?

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Within the last few years, two vaccines to prevent the human papilloma virus (HPV) have hit the healthcare marketplace. These vaccines come with lots of caveats that can make it difficult for average consumers to decide which vaccine is right for them – or if they should even bother getting vaccinated at all.

First, it helps to know a few facts about HPV.

  • HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. An estimated 20 million Americans have been exposed to the virus.

  • There are more than 100 different strains of HPV and 30 of these strains are passed from person to person through sexual contact. They infect areas of the body where sexual contact occurs, including the genitals, anus, mouth, and throat.

  • Both males and females can contract HPV.

  • You can be infected with HPV and never know it. The immune system destroys the virus in 90 percent of people.

  • Strains 16 and 18 cause 75 percent of cervical cancer, 70 percent of vaginal cancer, and 50 percent of vulvar cancer in women.

  • Strains 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts in males and females.

The two FDA-approved vaccines that protect people from contracting HPV are Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil protects against strains 6, 11, 16, and 18. Cervarix is specifically designed to eliminate the spread of strains 16 and 18, the two types of HPV that cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer.

Now that you know some facts about HPV and the two drugs available to prevent it, here are some guidelines to help you decide if you’d benefit from being vaccinated.

HPV vaccination may be for you if:

  • You’re a male or female who hasn’t yet become sexually active but you want to make sure you begin your sex life protected from genital warts. By being vaccinated with Gardasil now, you’ll ensure you won’t get the two types of HPV that cause genital warts later on.

  • You’re a female who hasn’t had sex and you want to guard against developing cervical, vaginal, or vulvar cancer when you’re older. By being vaccinated with either Gardasil or Cervarix, you can protect yourself from the two types of HPV that cause cancer.

  • You’re a parent who wants to protect your children from HPV. You can have any of your children who are 9 years of age or older vaccinated, as long as they’re not sexually active.

  • You’re a male or female who has had only one or two sexual partners. Being sexually active automatically puts you at higher risk for contracting HPV. If you’ve already been exposed to the strains of HPV the vaccines protect against, then being inoculated won’t do you any good.

    However, if you haven’t had a lot of sexual partners, you may not have all the types of HPV the vaccines guard against, so they may offer you some protection. In this case, only you and your doctor can decide if an HPV vaccine would benefit you.

Ask your doctor about HPV DNA testing. If you’re female, the test can tell you if you’ve been exposed to HPV 16 and 18, the two strains known to cause female reproductive cancers. The test can also detect the presence of several non-cancer causing HPV strains, including those that cause genital warts.

You can skip the HPV vaccine if:

  • You’ve had multiple sexual partners. Chances are you’ve already been exposed to the HPV strains the vaccines are designed to guard against.

  • You’re older than 26. However, research is being conducted to test the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety in older adults.

  • You’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. Although the vaccines don’t carry any known risks to pregnant women, neither drug has been tested to verify its safety for expectant mothers or unborn children.

  • You’re allergic to yeast. Gardasil contains yeast but, if you’re female, you could still be a candidate for Cervarix.

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