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Ponnada: The fight against HPV

BY SRI PONNADA | FEBRUARY 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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People in America have had access to the HPV vaccine for around eight years now. However, data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that even after all these years, only one-third of girls and fewer than 7 percent of boys in the United States between the ages of 13 to 17 had received the three recommended doses of the HPV vaccine in 2012.

This is quite problematic, considering that HPV is a common sexually transmitted disease.

According to the CDC, approximately 79 million Americans are affected by HPV, and around 14 million new people contract the infection every year. It’s so common that virtually every sexually active person will get at least one type of HPV during her or his lifetime.

You might be thinking that you don’t need the vaccine because the virus usually goes away on its own. But keep in mind that HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. That’s why it’s imperative that boys and girls get the recommended immunization at the earliest age possible and for those older individuals out there who haven’t gotten the vaccine yet to seriously consider getting it.

Now, there are some barriers to getting the vaccine. The Gardasil shot costs around $400, and you do have to go in to the doctor three times to get all three doses.

But there’s another factor holding back the spread of the HPV vaccine. Many parents out there have concerns that the vaccine may affect their child’s sexual behavior. It seems to be a popular belief that getting the HPV vaccine makes children — teenage girls, particularly — transform into sex-crazed wildebeests.

I have good news for those protective parents.

Data from a new study, however, prove that children who get the HPV vaccine are no more likely to go on rampant sexcapades than children who don’t.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, involved researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who studied more than 300 young ladies from ages 13-21 immediately after they got the HPV vaccine and again six months later. The girls and women were asked about their opinions on various sex-related matters, like what they thought about the risk of getting an STI other than HPV after the vaccination and whether they were sexually active.

The females’ responses showed that the vaccine neither affected their sexual activity nor their perceptions of the likelihood of contracting an STI.

So why are parents deliberately choosing not to protect their kids against HPV?

I remember one of my friends telling me about her mother’s reaction to her getting the HPV vaccine. When the doctor noticed that my friend was not vaccinated for HPV during a regular checkup, he asked my friend if she would like to get the shot. Her mom immediately responded, saying, “Why does she need it? She’s not having sex.”

I’m pretty sure that there are many more parents who share this mindset: Their kids aren’t having sex, so they can’t get HPV, which means they don’t need to get the vaccine. But that’s not the way parents should think. HPV is a disease, just like all the other diseases that we try to protect ourselves from. Take for instance, mumps.

Everyone that I know has gotten an MMR vaccine — which protects against mumps, measles, and rubella. Parents ensure that their children get the vaccine, even though the chances of being infected are extremely low.

According to the CDC, an average of 265 mumps cases have been reported in the United States each year since 2001. Despite the ease of getting the disease, mumps is now a rare disease in the United States because of the routine vaccination program.

And that is probably how we can make HPV a rare disease, as well. When given the opportunity to protect yourself against a disease, it’s foolish to turn the other way. So, at the risk of sounding like a Gardasil commercial, if you or a loved one haven’t been vaccinated for HPV, talk to your doctor now.


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