Health Corner: Let’s Talk about HPV

BY CORI STENNETT
For the UAS Whalesong

HPV, or the Human Papillomavirus, is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Google it and you’ll easily find an array of information, which can sometimes overlap and cause a bit of confusion in regards to how prevalent it is. According to the CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Other sources state more specific numbers, such as 80% of sexually active people are likely to contract HPV and close to 80 million Americans are currently infected. Either way, we’re talking about a lot of people!

And let’s face it – this is a tricky virus. There are more than 100 different strains, many people will never express a sign or symptom, and some people may develop symptoms years after being infected. For many people the virus seems to go away on its own and for others the virus may develop into more serious health issues such as genital warts, cervical cancer and other types of cancer.

It’s important to highlight that prevention is hopeful through the utilization of the HPV vaccine. Just last month researchers with the CDC reported that, “HPV prevalence went down by roughly two-thirds among U.S. teenage girls only six years after the recommendation that young women be vaccinated.”

The HPV vaccine is now recommended for people of all genders between the ages of 9-26. While it is most likely to be effective if the vaccine is received before exposure to the HPV virus, it is still suggested for people even if they have already been sexually active. It’s pretty incredible that the vaccine protects against infections that can cause 70% of cervical cancers and 90% of genital warts!

There are actually 3 different types of HPV vaccines and it is important for you and your doctor to discuss which one is best for you. It’s also important to note that the HPV vaccine is actually 3 shots, administered over a period of 6 months, and it’s critical for all 3 shots to be given in order for the vaccine to be effective. Similar to other vaccines or medications, there are possible side effects and any concerns regarding these should be discussed with your physician.

It’s true that the cost of the 3 HPV vaccine injections can typically be several hundred dollars. Fortunately, if you have insurance then the vaccine is likely covered. If you don’t have insurance, please know that there are options available. Both Juneau Public Health and Planned Parenthood offer sliding scale fees and can provide the vaccine at no to low cost.

Ultimately, it’s your body, your health, and your decisions. Honest and open communication, regular STI testing and treatment, and the use of condoms are critical ingredients for those who are sexually active. Please consider learning more about the HPV vaccine and taking action in protecting yourself and your partners from the virus strains associated with genital warts and cervical cancer.

Editor’s Note: Cori Stennet is a Community Outreach Educator and Teen Council Facilitator at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. She can be reached at 907-523-5025 x 5126, or online at ppgnw.org.

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