Health Officials: Vaccinate Boys Against HPV
Boys should get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and cervical, anal, and penile cancers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday. The new recommendation for the roughly $390 three-shot series applies only to 11- and 12-year-old boys. The CDC has already recommended that girls be vaccinated at 11 or 12, or up until age 26 if they didn't receive the shots as children. Health officials say immunizing boys will not only shield them from warts and certain cancers, but will also help protect their future sexual partners, HealthDay reports. Opponents worry the vaccine might encourage children to have sex at an earlier age. There are more than 40 types of HPV. It's the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. For most, the virus clears in a couple of years without causing problems.
HPV Vaccine: Not Just for Women?
If you're considering the HPV vaccine for your son (or yourself), here's a look at some factors you might consider, U.S. News reported in 2010.
First, the decision to vaccinate may be easier for men and parents who believe that males and females have a shared responsibility in preventing STDs. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor Neal Halsey falls into that group. Widespread vaccination, he says, is the best way to control HPV and avoid its potentially serious effects—and it's also the most ethical. Men infected with one of a few strains of HPV who pass it on to female sexual partners put them at risk for cervical cancer if they haven't been vaccinated themselves, which the government advises to prevent that form of cancer. And men who have sex with men are at greater risk for HPV-related anal cancer, which affects 1,100 men a year.
Besides cancer, the thought of genital warts alone may convince a man to get vaccinated, says James Turner, the American College Health Association's liaison to ACIP and director of the University of Virginia's Student Health Center. The warts, which affect about 1 percent of sexually active men at any given time, typically aren't painful, respond readily to freezing with a little liquid nitrogen at the doctor's office or even an at-home gel, and are considered a fairly "trivial medical condition," he says. But he still regards them as destructive. The warts can pop up months or years after the initial infection. In the interim, a man wouldn't know if he was infected. If he develops a close relationship, his significant other would need to take his word at the start that he was free of HPV. And if he develops genital warts later, his other half would also have to take on faith that he really did contract the virus before they got together. "Believe me, a genital wart can be a devastating occurrence in an otherwise monogamous intimate relationship," says Turner, basing his view on the college students he has worked with. At the University of Virginia, roughly 10 percent of the current male population have been vaccinated. That's pretty high, he says, most likely because of an active gay and bisexual community and a student health plan that covers the three-shot vaccine's $400 price tag. [HPV Vaccine: Not Just for Women?]
Don't Ignore the Symptoms: Sexual Problems, STDs Affect Millions
Here's a list of nine serious STDs—and one that's just a nuisance, U.S. News reported in 2008:
1. Chlamydia. Nicknamed the "silent disease," chlamydia often does its damage unnoticed; indeed, it produces virtually no symptoms in about half the men and three quarters of the women who get it, according to the CDC. But that can mean trouble, especially for women: Infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and dangerous ectopic pregnancies can result if the infection isn't stopped with antibiotics. While men rarely experience complications, the infection can spread to the tube that shuttles sperm, leading to pain, fever, and a remote chance of sterility. Once a woman has been infected with chlamydia, she is up to five times more likely to contract HIV if exposed to the virus. To avoid serious problems, the CDC urges—at a minimum— annual screening tests for all sexually active women ages 25 and under, as well as tests for all pregnant women. A mother's untreated chlamydia infections can invade a newborn's eyes and respiratory tract, which is why it's the leading cause of pink eye and pneumonia in infants, according to the CDC.
2. Syphilis. Once thought to be nearly eradicated in the United States, syphilis has staged a comeback in the past decade. It is most common among men with same-sex partners, although women, too, can become infected. Syphilis typically unfolds in stages, the first of which is marked by a small, often painless sore that may heal on its own (it is through direct contact with syphilis sores that the bacterial infection is spread.) If untreated, a rash of red-brown spots may pock the palms of hands and soles of feet, a sign that the infection has progressed to its second stage. Fever, swollen glands, a sore throat, hair loss, headaches, and other symptoms of this stage may emerge and resolve on their own. Without treatment, however, late-stage syphilis will develop. This can take up to 20 years, but it can involve such extensive damage to vital organs like the brain, heart, blood vessels, nerves, liver, bones, and joints that a person can't survive. [Read more: Don't Ignore the Symptoms: Sexual Problems, STDs Affect Millions.]
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