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What the Experts Say

HPV Extremely Common Among Teens
Wednesday, April 25th, 2007 Kristen DiPaolo | CWK Producer
Connect With Kids

“HPV is a very common infection. When you have something that, for a lot of people, is a silent disease, the prevalence of it is often greater.”
– Bakari Morgan, M.D., pediatrician

Stephanie is just 14 years old, but she is getting the new vaccine to prevent HPV, a sexually transmitted disease.

“I thought it was a good thing to do, and my mom wanted me to do it,” she explains.

The statistics indicate getting vaccinated at Stephanie’s age is a good idea, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control, HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) is extremely common among teens: one third of girls ages 14 to 24 are infected.

“You’re likely talking about girls who were sexually active, some of them even when they were 11, 12 or 13,” says Dr. Bakari Morgan, an Atlanta-based pediatrician.

However, teens can get HPV before they’ve ever had sex.

“You can definitely catch it without intercourse,” explains Dr. Morgan. “Skin to skin contact is all you need.”

Some people with HPV will develop genital warts. Others will have no symptoms at all.

“For most people, HPV will resolve spontaneously,” explains Dr. Lauri Markowitz, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “So in most individuals it doesn’t cause any problems. However, in some people it can persist and lead to changes in the cervix that lead to cervical cancer.”

There are more than 60 strains of HPV. According to the CDC, 2 percent of women will catch a strain that is likely to lead to cervical cancer.

“Although two percent is a small percentage, it’s a very large number,” says Dr. Morgan. “If you look at a population of a hundred million women, you are talking about two million who are going to have that risk.”

That’s why the CDC is recommending that girls starting at ages 11 and 12 be vaccinated for HPV.

The new vaccine has been controversial, with some parents choosing not to have their children inoculated. Stephanie and her sister, Mia, were glad to have it.

“I really don’t want to get cancer because both of my grandparents have had it and it’s really bad,” explains 12-year-old Mia. “So it’s a nice thing to [be] prevented from that kind of cancer.”

Even with the vaccine, the two girls say they still plan to act responsibly.

“I wouldn’t go out and have sex just because I have the shot,” says Stephanie.

Tips for Parents

Clinical trials show that the vaccine produces a strong antibody response in early adolescence, making the pre-teen years a good time to get children vaccinated. Parents should explain to their children that getting the vaccine now helps protect them when they are adults. (Lauri Markowitz, M.D., medical officer, Centers for Disease Control)

Explain to children that this vaccine will not protect them against all sexually transmitted infections, or even all strains of HPV. It does, however, protect 70 percent of the time against the strains of HPV that lead to cervical cancer.(Lauri Markowitz, M.D., medical officer, Centers for Disease Control)

The Centers for Disease Control is currently recommending that girls ages 11 and 12 receive the vaccine. However, the agency says the vaccine is safe and FDA-approved for all females ages 9 to 26. Merck, which manufactures the vaccine (Gardasil), is currently testing its safety and effectiveness for boys ages 9 to 26. (Centers for Disease Control)
Your doctor can give you an HPV test along with a pap smear. If you test positive for HPV, your doctor can determine whether it’s a high or low risk strain for causing cervical cancer. (Scott Parry, D.O., Internal Medicine)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health
Planned Parenthood

For more information, visit www.ConnectWithKids.com

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.

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