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HPV Vaccine: Who Should Get Vaccinated and is it Safe?

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HPV Vaccine: Who Should Get Vaccinated and is it Safe?

Jan 21, 2014

Human papillomavirus, better known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection, with 79 million Americans affected in 2013. The HPV vaccine can have a few different names, but the bottom line is that it protects against human papillomavirus. Dr. Cindy Gellner talks about the affects that HPV can have on the human body and how the vaccine can help fight against HPV. She also discusses the risk factors for getting HPV and who should be getting the vaccine.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: The HPV vaccine, should you get it and is it safe? I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner and let's explore that today on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: So you may have recently seen Katie Couric talking about this vaccine on her show, and you were maybe wondering, is this something I should get for my kids? Is it safe? Why is it important?

So this vaccine comes in many different names, Cervarix and Gardasil, and the bottom line is it protects against human papillomavirus. Now human papillomavirus is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection. Currently, based on the 2013 CDC data, 79 million Americans have HPV and 14 million people become newly infected each year.

So not only does HPV cause genital warts, but it also is the major virus that causes cervical cancer. It causes other cancers as well, including vulvar cancer in women, and penile cancer in men. HPV can also cause a rare condition called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. It's a disease where warts will actually grow in a persons' throat, it can actually affect a persons' ability to breath because they become so large, these papillomas, they're like big warts, the warts become so big in the persons throat, that they will block the persons airway.

Now, kids can be affected by this too. If the Mom has human papillomavirus while she's pregnant, she can actually transmit this to children. It can only be diagnosed by someone actually taking the child to the operating room and looking down their throat and looking for these warts, and these are one thing, the child is going to have to have them cauterized or burned off or frozen off recurrently, over and over and over, to keep their airway open as they go through life. So it's not something to really take lightly. So the vaccine actually can prevent most cases of cervical cancer and these other cancers.

The important thing is your child would need to get the entire series before they start having sexual activity. HPV actually is pretty easy to acquire, again, there's so many people that have it. Even if you only have one sexual partner and that person has it, you can get it.

So who should receive this vaccine and why? Pediatricians currently recommend that both boys and girls get the vaccine around age 11 to 12 when junior high vaccines are given. So what do I recommend to my patients at Parents, who are unsure about the vaccine. I always advice that the parents and the patients, the kids themselves, seriously consider getting this vaccine. It's the first vaccine developed to prevent a major type of cancer. Think about that. If we just give three shots and we eliminate several different types of cancers, or significantly reduce the amount of cancer, how awesome would that be?

The other thing to remember is a person can be infected with HPV for up to 10 years before symptoms appear, again, why it's so important to get the kids vaccinated before they start having sex so they get vaccinated before they even come in contact with this virus. Treatment, once a patient has it and has symptoms, can include anything from cryotherapy, which is freezing off of the warts, to actually surgically removing part of the reproductive system, again, something to think about. Three shots, versus something that could be extraordinarily painful. And even if a person is asymptomatic, if they are infected they spread HPV to others through unprotected sex.

The safety of the vaccine has been studied in clinical trials of 30,000 males and females before the FDA even approved its' license for general public use. The vaccine has been shown to be highly effective and research shows that the protection is long lasting. You may need boosters of this vaccine in the future, but three vaccines are all that's needed. So with concerns about the side effects of this vaccine, the bottom line is, the benefits of vaccines outweigh the risk. So your pediatrician will be able to answer any other questions that you have, but I can't stress enough how important it is to protect your child against this virus that actually can cause a lot of serious harm in the future if it's not taken seriously.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.