7:39 PM EDT, May 16, 2012
Q: I've heard that the HPV vaccine is now being recommended for boys. Why? Does my 12-year-old son really need this?
A: Yes, the quadrivalent HPV4 (brand name Gardasil) vaccine is now routinely recommended for all boys 11 to 12 years of age. It is a good idea for boys to receive the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. This vaccine was developed to prevent cervical cancer in girls when they grow up to become women. But it's important for boys to get vaccinated against HPV to protect them when they grow up to be men. The vaccine can prevent cancer, as well as prevent the spread of HPV.
HPV is a dangerous, sexually transmitted virus that can cause a host of health problems. Two strains of the virus cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer. HPV infections can also lead to other genital and anal cancers in women, and penile cancer and anal cancer in men. In addition, HPV causes genital warts, as well as mouth and throat cancers.
While men obviously cannot get cervical cancer, they can carry HPV and spread it to their partners. HPV is very common. About 50 percent of the population, both men and women, develop an HPV infection.
Many people who carry HPV never have signs or symptoms, and they don't know they have it. By vaccinating boys against HPV, we are helping to protect women from developing cervical cancer.
The HPV4 vaccine can help prevent HPV infection, cancers and warts. The vaccine is given as a series of three shots over six months. For the vaccine to be effective, a person needs to receive all three doses before being exposed to HPV infection.
TheU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the HPV4 vaccine for boys 11 to 12 years old. The vaccination series can be started at age 9. The vaccine is also recommended for boys and men 13 to 22 years of age who have not been vaccinated.
Vaccinating boys against HPV when they are 11 or 12 is good timing. At that age, children's bodies respond to vaccines better than they do later in life. Three doses appear to give lifelong immunity. In addition, many older teenagers are sexually active. Vaccines are most effective if they're given before the individual is at risk of being exposed to HPV.
The HPV vaccine has been proven safe. The process it went through before being approved by theU.S. Food and Drug Administrationwas extensive. Since then, more than 60 million doses of HPV vaccine have been given and closely monitored. A wealth of data supports the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
In the past, there was concern that HPV vaccine could lead to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder. That was fully investigated, and no association was found. In addition, there's absolutely no evidence to support claims that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation.
What about girls?
The CDC recommends girls 11 to 12 years of age receive either the HPV2 or the HPV4 vaccine. HPV2 is not licensed for boys or men.
Dr. Robert Jacobson is part of Community Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.
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