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Monday, January 06, 2014 - Young men and women can protect themselves against the HPV virus with FDA-approved vaccination

Young men and women can protect themselves against the HPV virus with FDA-approved vaccination

By Tiffany Martinez, D.O.

Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 different strains of the HPV virus that can infect the genitals, mouth and throat areas of both males and females. HPV can also cause serious health problems, including certain cancers, cervical cancer in particular, and (contagious) genital warts.

HPV is a growing problem in our country. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that about 79 million people are infected with at least one of the HPV strains. In many cases, the immune system can fight off the virus before any health problems occur. But certain types of HPV are the leading cause of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in women. The virus can also cause anal cancers and penile cancer in men.

Vaccination against the HPV strain that can cause cervical cancer

There is no HPV diagnostic test for men or women. If infected, you may eventually exhibit physical symptoms. But two FDA-approved vaccines, Gardasil (protects against four of the viruses) and Cervarix (protects against two of the viruses) can prevent the virus that causes most cervical cancer cases in addition to other HPV-related cancers.

The CDC recommends HPV vaccination, performed in a three-shot series, for both boys and girls beginning at age 11 or 12. Recent data shows during the period between 2007, shortly after the two vaccines were introduced, and 2010, the rate of infection with the HPV types that the vaccine protects against decreased 56 percent, as compared to the four-year period before the vaccines were available. This improvement is outstanding, considering that in 2010, just 33 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 17 had received the recommended three-dose protocol.

The vaccine does not replace the routine Pap smear

Research indicates the protection should last for at least eight years and, potentially, well beyond that. The longer the HPV vaccine is in use, the more precise studies can be performed to determine its long-term effectiveness. It is important to be aware that the two approved vaccines protect against some of the most common HPV strains that cause cervical cancers, but it doesn't protect against all of them; therefore, you should continue to have regular Pap smears as part of your annual gynecological exam.

There will always be debate about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines available today. But keep in mind, vaccines continue to be monitored for safety after they are licensed for use in the U.S. As an OB/GYN, I encourage parents, and their age-appropriate children, to take advantage of a vaccine to protect themselves against the most common and potentially deadly strains of the HPV virus. Talk with your personal doctor and discuss the latest scientific studies confirming the benefits of this vaccine, which far outweigh any adverse side effects, which are extremely rare.

How to protect yourself

Your primary care doctor, OB/GYN or pediatrician can offer more information on sexually transmitted diseases, testing and HPV vaccination. To learn more or locate an OB/GYN or primary care doctor in your area, call CentraState Medical Center at (866) CENTRA7 or search the physician database at centrastate.com/doctors.

Dr. Martinez is an OB/GYN on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached at Woman to Woman Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates in Freehold by calling 732-308-2255.