HPV and the Gardasil Vaccine

GardasilYou may or may not have heard of the Gardasil vaccine: a relatively new vaccine that prevents a few different strands of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a serious virus that affects up to 80% of males and females in their lifetime.  And while the virus sometimes shows no symptoms and clears on its own, many cases can be more serious, causing genital warts in men and women and cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in females.

The most important thing to know about HPV is that it can be transmitted through any type of genital contact, not just sexual intercourse.  According to the Gardasil Web site, someone becomes infected HPV approximately every minute and nearly 3 out of 4 cases occur in males and females ages 15-24.

Although there are approximately 40 types of HPV, there are four strands of the virus that cause most of HPV diseases in humans.  HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts in males and females.  Types 16 and 18 cause 75% of cervical cancer, 70% of vaginal cancer, and 50% of vulvar cancer cases in females.  In females, all types of HPV can be detected by pap smear tests.  There is no way to screen for HPV in men.

The Gardasil vaccine is for males and females ages 9 to 26 years old and protects against the HPV strands listed above. Gardasil is most effective when administered before young men and women are sexually active, and thus potentially exposed to HPV.  Young adults who are already sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine, however, as they may not have been exposed to the types of HPV Gardasil protects against.  The vaccine is given in three doses over a six-month period: the second does administered two moths after the first and the third is administered four months after the second.  It is very important to receive each dose as timely as possible (within a few days).

Many people worry about the safety and cost of the Gardasil vaccine. It’s important to know that you cannot get HPV or any related diseases.  The vaccine does not contain live virus, rather, a protein that helps your body protect itself against HPV.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have both determined that the benefits outweigh any risks of the Gardasil vaccine. Common side effects include pain, swelling, itching, bruising, and redness at the site of the injection.  Some may experience headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and fainting after the injection.  Many health plans cover the Gardasil vaccine, however, you may want to call your provider before beginning the vaccine to find out how much of the cost is covered.  Two programs, the federally-funded Vaccines for Children Program and the Merck Vaccine Patient Assistance Program provide free Gardasil vaccination for children and adults, respectively.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about the Gardasil vaccine if you are interested in starting the vaccination program for yourself or your child.  For comprehensive information about Gardasil, visit http://www.gardasil.com.

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