STK - Vaccinations

A few years ago, as Utah Valley University was remodeling, they set up a makeshift cafeteria in the hallway directly adjacent to my office. In an attempt to block out the visual distraction, I found a few large health posters and covered the window.

It was no more than a day or so later that I received a call from the university vice president letting me know that students found my posters offensive.

It turns out these were posters from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommending that everyone, beginning at 11-12 years of age, receive the Human Papillomavirus Vaccination (HPV). To be clear the university had no issue with the poster, just several students.

I am thinking the HPV message needs to get out.

In case you were not aware, HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection affecting both males and females in the United States. There are over 80 million currently infected with HPV and there are over 14 million new infections each year.

According to the CDC, over 30,000 of those will go on to develop cancer as a result of the HPV virus.

Unlike other STIs, most signs and symptoms of HPV are nonexistent. Of the more than 40 types of the virus, some may cause genital warts and a small number may lead to various cervical, vaginal and anal cancers in men and women. In addition, men after infection may develop cancers of the penis. Various types of the virus may also transmit infection to the mouth and throat and have been associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

The HPV virus is passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact, generally involving sexual activity. The virus can also pass from an infected person even though they show no signs or symptoms.

It should be pointed out that according to the CDC, anybody who is sexually active can get HPV, even if the sexual contact is halted after just one encounter. Symptoms may develop years after the initial contact.

HPV in most women is temporary, and does not have a significant long-term effect. Within one year, 70 percent of HPV infections are cured; 90 percent are cured within two years. Yet, in 5 to 10 percent of women, HPV persists. These patients find themselves at significant risk for cervical cancer at a later date.

In men, there are usually no symptoms and the infection goes away on its own. However, in a small number of cases, the virus causes genital warts, or more rarely, cancers of the reproductive track.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the various health problems associated with the infection.

That’s why all boys and girls 11-12 years of age should receive the vaccine. The idea is for the protection to start before exposure. There is a general assumption that all young people will eventually become sexually active. The vaccine given in two doses six months apart can provide protection before they are exposed.

This is difficult for many parents; they may think their child is only 11-12, and it can’t possibly be time to even think about sexually transmitted diseases. Because of this, many parents choose to skip this important vaccination.

Teens and young adults who didn’t start or finish the HPV vaccine series also need the vaccine. At ages 15-26, a three-dose series is given.

Current research indicates that protection against the virus lasts for up 25 years. If you have young people, please do not ignore this message. Check with your personal physician or the Utah County Health Department for more information.