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Understanding HPV: Protecting Your Health Through Vaccination

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This article was posted in the Los Angeles Times. Read more here.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a prevalent, yet often misunderstood, virus yielding serious health consequences if left unchecked. It’s one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) worldwide with over 100 different types, some of which can lead to various cancers, including cervical, anal, penile, vaginal and throat cancers. While human papillomavirus vaccines are available and highly effective in preventing infection, misconceptions about the virus persist, making education and awareness crucial in combating its spread and associated health risks.

Human papillomavirus is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact, primarily during sexual activity. While most infections resolve on their own without causing symptoms or long-term health issues, certain strains of the virus can lead to genital warts and an increased risk of developing cancer. Human papillomavirus can also spread through other forms of contact, such as through childbirth or non-sexual skin-to-skin contact.

The vaccine is recommended for both genders, starting between the ages of 9 and 11 years old. The vaccine is typically administered through a series of shots over several months, and it is most effective when given before a person has become sexually active. For those who did not receive the vaccine during adolescence, catch-up vaccination is recommended for young adults up to age 26 for women and up to age 21 for men.

Young adults, regardless of gender, should consider human papillomavirus testing as part of their routine healthcare. Human papillomavirus testing can detect the presence of the virus in cervical cells and identify individuals at risk for developing human papillomavirus-related complications. I discuss the importance of getting vaccinated with my adolescent patients and their parents as the vaccine is most effective when administered before any exposure to the virus. The vaccine is given in a series of shots and is a crucial strategy in preventing cervical cancer in women. It’s also important for boys to get vaccinated since they can be carriers and spread the virus to women as they become sexually active, not to mention that they are vulnerable to developing genital cancers from the virus themselves.

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel hesitant about their child receiving the human papillomavirus vaccine – some may worry about side effects, long-term impacts or having to address the topic of sexual activity with their child.

It’s important to address these concerns with accurate information and have an open dialogue with your child’s physician. The vaccine has been around for over 20 years and has a strong track record of safety and effectiveness. It is highly effective at preventing human papillomavirus infections and related health issues, including certain types of cancer. By vaccinating adolescents before they become sexually active, we can protect them against these diseases.

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I Vaccinate provides information and tools based on real medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their kids. Support is provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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