Genital human papillomavirus.
It\’s a mouthful, but thanks to a new vaccine, HPV is being talked about.
In June 2006, the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend Gardasil, the first vaccine to protect against diseases caused by HPV, including cervical cancer. The vaccine is for girls and women ages 9-26. For many women, Gardasil is being welcomed with open arms. Freshman Sarah Berendsohn heard about the vaccination over the summer. She didn’t think twice before getting vaccinated. “If I don’t have to worry about being infected with HPV, then I don’t have to worry about transmitting it, either,” said Berendsohn, who plans on going home to get the vaccination before December.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. The vaccine is made up of the outer coat of the HPV virus and protects against four different strains of HPV types. These four strains, HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18, have caused 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts. The American Cancer Society estimates cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 9,700 women nationwide and that 3,700 will die. While not every form of HPV transforms into cervical cancer, most do.
HPV exists in more than 40 forms. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), some of the strains of HPV are called \”high-risk\” types and show abnormalities in Pap smears. Strains can evolve to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus or penis. Others are called \”low-risk\” types, and they may cause mild Pap smear abnormalities or genital warts. Genital warts are single or multiple growths that appear in the genital area and are sometimes cauliflower shaped.
“We base our knowledge off of pap smears,” said Elizabeth Neal, a family practice physician from the Mid Michigan Regional Medical Center. “If there are irregular cells on a woman’s cervix, then we test for HPV. But there is never a way to know which of the many types of HPV she may have.” Women should receive a pap smear each year once they turn 18 or become sexually active. This simple test can be given at any hospital or health center, including Olin Health Center.
The price at Olin is currently $156 for each of the three doses of the vaccine. In rare cases, side effects include pain, swelling, itching, and redness at the injection site and fever. The vaccination only protects against the four most common strains of the virus. If a doctor doesn’t know which form of HPV the patient has, giving the vaccine becomes more difficult, as the vaccine does not assist in the deletion of any current HPV or genital warts. Even girls with one type of HPV can get protection against other strains since it is possible to have multiple strains of HPV.
Both men and women can contract the disease; however women in their late teens to early \’20s are most susceptible to HPV. In rare cases, HPV contracted by men caused penile cancer. There is currently no vaccination to protect men against the disease. [gross]
A bipartisan group of female Michigan lawmakers are trying to pass a bill requiring girls to receive the vaccination in sixth grade. However, the lawmaking hopefuls cannot pass this bill until next year, leaving out the current preteen to college population whom are at their most vulnerable point for infection. Another factor is the price of the vaccine, since according to the FDA, the retail price of the vaccination is $360 and comes in a series of three. MSU’s Olin Health Center does carry the vaccination, but reportedly the total charge of the three visits runs around $450. Since the vaccine is new, not all insurance and health care providers have yet issued coverage. The ACIP recommends getting all three injections, as studies have not been done on the results of only getting one or two.
Child development freshman Elizabeth Dewey says that she’d be more likely to get the vaccination if it was less expensive. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to make the vaccination so expensive,” said Dewey. “For those of us who don’t want our parents paying for it, or knowing that we’re getting it, it’s a high price to come up with ourselves.”
In June 2006, The Food and Drug Administration and the ACIP approved the vaccine for use in girls as young as nine. The length of the Gardasil vaccination is unknown, which gives reason to medicate girls at an early age. Recipients of the vaccine have been medically studied for five years and are still protected against the four main strains of the virus. Since the vaccine is not recommended for women after the age of 26, college-age women are at a prime age for the vaccine. By the age of 26, 80 percent of women have been exposed to HPV, meaning the virus has at some point passed through the body. HPV manages to sometimes rest in the body without symptoms, and some strains even disappear without the assistance of medication.
Some girls are not as confident in the vaccination as Berendsohn. “I feel like my parents would be like, ‘Why do you need that?’” said Dewey. “I don’t even know what it is exactly. I don’t think it’s been covered well enough in the media, for being the medical breakthrough it actually is.”
[hpv]While the controversy is similar to the development of birth control, some girls don’t think they have the same excuses for their parents to obtain the vaccination. “To regulate periods” or “to help the skin” are excuses that are actually invalid for getting Gardasil. Many MSU women do not know enough information about the vaccine to risk parental disapproval.
According to Neal, it is a misconception that HPV cannot be transmitted if one stays abstinent. She described one instance of a college patient who lived in the dorms. “One girl used her roommate’s razor which her roommate had been using for her pubic hair. From that she contracted warts on her shin.”
However, the types of HPV that cause genital warts are usually different from those that cause warts on other body parts, such as the hands or feet, so touching a wart on the hands or feet will not cause genital warts.
With awareness being raised, education is the first weapon used to help both women and men protect themselves from the threat of HPV. “I think it’s the smart move for not only my own wellbeing, but that of anyone I’m romantically involved with in the future,” said Berendsohn.
Neal thoroughly believes that college-aged women should protect themselves against HPV. She adds, “Get checked, what do you have to lose?”