Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s so common that nearly all sexually active people will have it at some point in their lives. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause genital warts and cancer. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV.
The virus has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat. The Appalachian Community Cancer Network (ACCN) reports that from 2008-2012 1,157 cancers were attributed with HPV in Ohio. Incidence and mortality rates are higher in Appalachia Ohio (our area) than Ohio as a whole. These disparities are largely attributed to differences in factors related to HPV such as multiple sexual partners, having a partner who has had many sexual partners and starting to have sex at an early age (< 16 years of age).
We have had the chance to prevent cancer since 2006 (when the HPV vaccine was introduced). The HPV vaccine is cancer prevention, and per the CDC, works “extremely well” providing close to 100% protection against cervical pre-cancers and genital warts. There has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen US girls. Studies have shown fewer teens are getting genital warts and cervical pre-cancers are decreasing.
HPV vaccines prevent infection by certain types of the virus, but they work best if they are given before an infection occurs. This is why the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends it for girls and boys ages 11 to 12 – because the vaccines produce the strongest immune response at this age, and because most children at this age have not yet become sexually active. Research has shown that getting the HPV vaccine does not make kids more likely to be sexually active or start having sex at an earlier age. This is also an age when children still will be seeing their doctor regularly and getting other school-required vaccinations such as Tdap and meningococcal. The HPV vaccines prevent the 2 types of HPV that cause 70% of all cervical cancers and pre-cancers, as well as many cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and throat. They also help prevent infection by the 2 types of HPV that cause most genital warts. The vaccines are given as a series of shots. Before the HPV vaccination, the US spent $8 billion on prevention and treatment of HPV related disease according to the ACCN.
The ACS recommends: 1. Routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys should be started at age 11 or 12. The vaccination series can be started as early as age 9. 2. HPV vaccination is also recommended for females 13 to 26 years old and for males 13 to 21 years old who have not started the vaccines, or who have started but not completed the series. Males 22 to 26 years old may also be vaccinated. 3. HPV vaccination is also recommended through age 26 for men who have sex with men and for people with weakened immune systems (including people with HIV infection), if they have not previously been vaccinated.
Like all vaccines, the HPV vaccine is monitored on an on-going basis to make sure it remains safe and effective. The US currently has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. Years of testing are required by law to ensure the safety of vaccines before they are made public. This process could take 10 years or longer. Once a vaccine is in use, the CDC and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) monitor any associated side effects or possible side effects. The FDA only licenses a vaccine if it is safe, effective and the benefits outweigh the risks.
Common side effects of the vaccine include: pain, redness or swelling in the arm when the shot was administered; fever; headache or feeling tired; nausea; muscle or joint pain. There is no data suggesting HPV vaccine will have effect on future fertility for women. In fact, getting vaccinated and protecting against HPV-related cancers can help women and families have healthy pregnancies and babies. Not getting the HPV vaccine leaves people vulnerable to HPV infection and related cancers. Treatments for cancers and pre-cancers might include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation which might cause pregnancy complications or leave someone unable to have children.
Unfortunately, Ohio’s HPV immunization rates fall well below the national target. In an effort to increase HPV vaccination rates amongst Meigs County youth aged 11-17 years of age, the Meigs County Health Department (MCHD) is partnering with The Ohio State University (OSU) Comprehensive Cancer Center via a project named “I Vaccinate.” The MCHD believes in the HPV vaccine’s safety and efficiency; therefore, it recommends that parents vaccinate their sons and daughters against HPV early to provide them with the immunity needed before exposure occurs. In fact, MCHD nurses who are parents of age-appropriate teens already have vaccinated their children against HPV.
The MCHD offers the HPV vaccine every Tuesday from 9-11AM and 1-3PM on a walk-in basis or other weekdays by appointment. Through the Vaccine for Children Program, we help families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. The program assists children aged 18 years and younger who are uninsured, who have Medicaid, or are American Indian/Alaska Native. We also offer the vaccine to children/young adults who have healthcare insurance coverage. We can work with the Merck patient assistance program to immunize those residents aged 19-26 who are uninsured and income eligible. Contact your child’s physician or the MCHD at 740-992-6626 for more information or to determine eligibility.