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Make sure your teen gets the HPV vaccine

photo showing a vial of Human Papilloma Virus vaccine next to a syringe at a clinicVaccinations have gained a lot of public attention over the last few years. While it is recommended and understandable that parents carefully consider all medical treatments administered to their children, vaccines are among those tools that parents should feel most confident about including in their children’s preventive medical care plans. The HPV vaccine is a ground-breaking vaccine in being the first of its kind: a vaccination against cancer.

What is HPV?

The human papilloma virus, or HPV, is a common virus that infects most people at some point in life. In fact, it is estimated that at any given time, about one in four Americans is infected with HPV.

HPV is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact and is most commonly spread through sexual or intimate encounters. There are many “strains,” or genetic variants, of the virus. Some strains lead to the development of warts on places such as the genitals, mouth and anus. Other strains may be completely asymptomatic.

Why worry about HPV?

The body is able to recover from HPV infection after about two years in around 9 out of 10 cases. A few strains, however, cause a lingering infection that leads to the development of cancer. Unless caught in the earliest stages, cancers caused by HPV can have very high morbidity and mortality rates. Stopping the spread of HPV would prevent about 28,000 cases cancer in the United States each year.

Only the HPV vaccine can prevent infection with dangerous strains of HPV. The risk of developing HPV from other strains can be reduced by common safe-sex practices such as routine health exams to detect and treat sexually transmitted diseases, monogamy and the use of condoms. It is also recommended that women receive routine screening exams, generally referred to as “pap smears,” for cervical cancer.

Why do we need prevention of HPV and not just treatment?

HPV is highly contagious and often asymptomatic. As a result, treating only those people with symptoms of active infection is not enough to stop the spread of the disease. In consideration of the potentially life-threatening consequences of HPV infection, protection against the cancer-causing strains is an important and life-saving tool.

There are some strategies that can help decrease the risk of transmission but abstinence cannot: many forms of intimate contact at any point over the course of a lifetime can facilitate the transmission of HPV. Only the HPV vaccine has been shown to prevent the development of the most severe consequences of HPV infection.

What can I expect from the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is designed to prevent infection from the strains of HPV that cause cancer. For the most complete protection, it is recommended that the HPV vaccine be administered to children and teens. Even adults who may already have been exposed to HPV should also be vaccinated in order to prevent re-infection with the cancer-causing strains.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, recommends that children ages 11 and 12 receive the HPV vaccine in two doses administered six months apart. The vaccine is designed to provide long-lasting protection but it has not yet been available long enough to determine conclusively if booster shots will be needed at some point during a lifetime. Studies on this topic are on-going and have shown to-date that immunity remains for at least six years.

Where can my teen get the HPV vaccine?

Even if this article is intended to contain useful information, it cannot replace professional medical advice. If you or someone you love has questions or concerns about HPV and the HPV vaccine, please consult a qualified medical professional near you.

Dr. Zack Charkawi, M.D. and Johns Creek Family Medicine clinic welcome questions from current and new patients who wish to receive the HPV vaccine. As part of both the family medicine and pediatric treatment programs, patients of Johns Creek Family Medicine clinic are encouraged to learn more about and participate in vaccination programs. Find out today how Dr. Zack Charkawi, M.D. and the staff of Johns Creek Family Medicine can address your vaccination questions and concerns as part of their whole patient approach to family medicine and healthcare.

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