One of the summer's best kept secrets has been the findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that, thanks to vaccination, rates of infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) have fallen among girls age 14-19.
Why is this good news? It means that we can expect a significant reduction in HPV caused cancer in women and men! CDC reports that each year in the United States, about 19,000 cancers caused by HPV occur in women, with cervical cancer the most common one. In men the numbers are lower, but still about 8,000 cancers caused by HPV occur each year in men, most of them oropharyngeal (throat) cancers;
Dr. Lauri Markowitz and colleagues at the CDC reported that they compared the prevalence of girls and women aged 14-59 years with certain types of HPV before the start of the HPV vaccination program (2003-2006) with the prevalence after vaccine introduction (2007-2010). CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H said, “This report shows that HPV vaccine works well, and the report should be a wake-up call to our nation to protect the next generation by increasing HPV vaccination rates.
So that's the good news. Unfortunately only one third of girls aged 13-17 have been fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine.”. Other studies from CDC find that only one half of girls start the three-vaccine series, and only one third complete the entire series. The number is even lower for boys. All three vaccines in the series need to be completed for full protection.
The HPV vaccine is highly effective and safe. CDC recommends the vaccine for both girls and boys starting at age 11-12. The reason for this is that, like all vaccines, it provides maximum protection if it is given before exposure to the virus. The primary means of exposure to HPV is through sexual activity, and by giving the vaccine early, the body has time to develop the necessary antibodies before exposure.
Other studies have found that being vaccinated has no impact on sexual activity. "HPV vaccine does not open the door to sex. HPV vaccine closes the door to cancer," Frieden said
Why are rates of vaccination so low? There may be a number of factors including lack of knowledge on the part of parents/guardians about the vaccine and its role in preventing cancer. In addition, many parents report that their health care provider did not mention or recommend the vaccine. And although the HPV vaccine is not required for most school admission (the exceptions are in Virginia and the District of Columbia where it is currently required for 6th grade entry) parents and guardians can ask for it as part of their back-to-school health care visits.
For more information about HPV vaccine and other childhood immunizations, see our publication Childhood Vaccination. To find out how you can help to advocate for immunization in your school community, see Advocacy for Vaccines.
I found this blog from the New York Times interesting and thought I would share.
As a parent raising two kids, I hoped that my children would wait until marriage to be sexually active. Over the years, I had many conversations with my children where I shared my values, factual information about sexuality, and accurate information about both the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Had there been an HPV vaccine at that time, I would certainly have had them vaccinated because I could not guarantee that they would follow my advice 100% of the time.
What do you think?
In the era of a 24/7 news cycle and multiple online and off line sources of information, we are often left wondering "is this accurate?" This may be particularly true in the areas of health treatment and prevention. There is so much information out there that it can be hard to sort through it all. One place to start is Healthfinder.gov from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthfinder can be your one stop shop for health information or it can be a source of reliable links for exploring further. While not a substitute for the advice of a medical/health professional, Healthfinder can help you prepare for that discussion with basic information or the latest research.
One way to start is to enter some simple information that allows the site to customize its advice. For example, I am a female in my early 50s. The site then provides some reminders on basic, preventive care such as shots and screenings that I need to do. It also lists a few areas, such as a bone density scan that I should ask my doctor about. If I was younger, it would not remind me about the bone density scan. I can also use the site to get information on general health for a another person such as child or an aging parent.
In addition to the general information it provides, Healthfinder can be searched for information on a range of topics. A search on the summer topic of sunscreen yields two pages of results including information on proper application, regulatory news, and even an e-card that I can send to a friend. More complex topics also yield multiple results. Recently I went looking for information on a rare type of cancer. I found plenty, including a news story on two new and promising drugs.
The site also features additional tools such as activity trackers, menu planners and links to external site with credible information. One nice feature here is that all external links are clearly marked so you know when you are leaving the site. Finally, the site offers content in Spanish.
So the next time you are wondering where to go for good health information, one of your first stops should be Healthfinder.gov. Now tell us where you go for health information.