Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's Up With HPV

Many of you have probably been hearing in the news about many of the Republican candidates piling on Rick Perry during the debates over his executive order as governor of Texas to make the HPV vaccine mandatory for girls under the age of twelve.  And many of you may be wondering what HPV is and why a vaccine may be necessary in the first place.

Human papillomavirus, HPV, is member of the papillomavirus family of viruses that is capable of infecting humans.  There are almost 200 known types of HPV.  Though most people show no sign of infection, many types of HPV show up in the form of warts.  Common warts, plantar warts and genital warts are all symptoms of HPV.  The large concern is with genital warts which can lead to cancer.

About 30 to 40 types of HPV are sexually transmitted.  Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.  In some cases, HPV can lead to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, and anus in women or cancers of the anus and penis in men.  One way to screen for cervical cancer in women is by way of the pap smear.  The cervix is checked for abnormal cells that may be an early sign of cancer.  The institution of the yearly pap smear has led to a great reduction in deaths as a result from cervical cancer.  All the same, there were 11,000 cases of cervical cancer and 3,900 deaths in the U.S. in 2008.  Worldwide, there are an estimated 490,000 cases and 270,000 deaths as a result of cervical cancer.  The HPV vaccines, which prevent infection with the HPV types (16 and 18) that cause 70% of cervical cancer, may be the best way to reduce cancer infection and deaths even further.

Currently, it is only recommended for girls to be vaccinated against HPV.  But since boys are not only carriers but can also be infected by cancers caused by HPV, it is highly recommended by some that boys also be vaccinated against this virus.

io9 has a great article, How Vaccines Saved the World, explaining a bit about how vaccines work and dispels some of the myths about vaccines causing autism and other disorders.

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