Boys Encouraged to Get HPV Vaccine

Aug. 03--RALEIGH -- Health professionals are breaking the image of human papilloma virus -- a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer -- as a female condition by encouraging boys to be vaccinated.

About 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and nearly all cases were transmitted through HPV. That is why health officials recommend that girls be immunized against HPV with Gardasil, the vaccine approved by FDA in 2006.

But more than half of sexually active Americans -- both men and women -- carry HPV, and infected men can spread it through sex, said Fred Wyand, a spokesman for the American Social Health Association, located in the Research Triangle Park.

"It's important to bring males to the discussion," Wyand said. "It's about gender equity."

Now the federal government recommends boys be vaccinated with Gardasil -- but with less urgency.

Since 2009, the vaccine has been approved for boys ages 9 to 26, saying it can also protect against genital warts and anal cancer.

The vaccine is given as a series of three injections over a six-month period and is most effective if administered before children become sexually active. It costs about $400 and is covered by Medicaid and most private insurance.

"My plan is to vaccinate my son," said Susan Kaminski, a gynecologist in Williams, Benavides, & Marston, MD, PA. She agrees that if enough boys are vaccinated, fewer women will be infected.

"There is added value to men themselves in decreasing the chance of genital warts," she said.

In North Carolina, fewer boys than girls receive Gardasil. Of 388 boys the N.C. Immunization Registry surveyed in the past year, about 13 percent received Gardasil, compared with about 39 percent of girls being vaccinated.

Many parents are hesitant to vaccinate their boys against HPV, said Alyssa Hoffman, pediatric nurse practitioner at Stepping Stones Pediatrics in Raleigh. Some fear the safety of the vaccine, some insist their boys are not having sex, and others fear their boys would feel encouraged to have unprotected sex if they are vaccinated, she said.

But the vaccine has been approved by the federal government and has an effectiveness rate of nearly 100 percent, Hoffman said.

"A vaccine isn't going to change a teenager's perspective on whether to have sex or not," she said, adding that the best parents and health professionals can do is to educate children and to encourage abstinence.

"Ultimately, (vaccinating boys is) indirectly protecting the girls," Hoffman said.

Even with a high effectiveness rate, the vaccine is not a miracle cure, she warned.

"This is not going to cover you against gonorrhea or AIDS," Hoffman said

Charlotte Observer staff writer Deia De Brito contributed to this article.

regina.wang@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4918

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Posted: August 2011


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