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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
CDC recommends HPV vaccine for boys
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CDC recommends HPV vaccine for boys

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The CDC has recommended that boys be vaccinated against HPV - human papillomavirus - a sexually transmitted virus that has been linked to cervical, anal, and throat cancers, and anal or genital warts.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice, which advises the CDC, voted unanimously October 25 to recommend the vaccine for males ages 11 and 12.

While the vaccine has been available to boys before, the CDC decision means that vaccinations are now likely to be covered by medical insurance.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that vaccinating boys would provide a direct benefit against various cancers and genital warts, and would also potentially reduce the spread of the virus from males to females.

Until now, vaccination of girls has been considered standard with vaccination of boys being optional.

Officials said a lower than expected rate of vaccination in girls led them to reconsider the policy.

'[The] HPV vaccine is not being highly taken up among teen girls,' Schuchat said.

As of last year, 49% of adolescent girls had received at least the first of the recommended three HPV shots, while only a third had had all three doses.

Schuchat attributed the low rates for girls to confusion by parents that the vaccination is appropriate only when their daughter becomes sexually active. The vaccine works best if the shots are given before the patient becomes sexually active.

According to the CDC, HPV infection is the most common STD in the United States. An estimated 50% to 80% of men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lifetime, with the largest number of new infections occurring in the age range 20 to 24.

Most people never develop symptoms, but HPV is linked to almost 13,000 cases of cervical cancer among U.S. women every year, and recent studies have shown increases in head and neck cancers linked to the virus.

There is currently no specific treatment for HPV infection, but most cases reportedly clear up by themselves within two years, according to the CDC. Experts do not agree on how to tell when the virus is completely eliminated, however, or exactly when it is contagious.

Two vaccines are currently available to prevent infection by some HPV types - Gardasil, marketed by Merck, and Cervarix, marketed by GlaxoSmithKline.

Both protect against initial infection by HPV types which cause most of the HPV-associated cancer cases. Gardasil also protects against HPV types which cause 90% of genital warts.

The HPV vaccine made headlines in September when Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann claimed that it caused mental retardation.

No such cases have been documented by U.S. health authorities, however.

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