HPV and Men

Did you know that the CDC recommends that men get vaccinated against HPV (human papilloma virus)? It’s true! The CDC now recommends the HPV vaccine Gardasil for both men and women ages 9-26 years old.

Man, HPV is confusing. So true! My fellow Sexual Wellness Specialist (formerly CHECS) Diana has written a great blog entry about HPV. I want to reiterate that there are over 100 strains of HPV that are transmitted through skin/skin contact in the genital region. Some strains of HPV don’t do anything. Some cause genital warts. Some cause cancers. Gardasil vaccinates against four common strains: HPV-16 & HPV-18 (which cause most of the cancers) and HPV-6 & HPV-11 (which cause 90% of genital warts).

You probably noticed that Gardasil does not vaccinate against all strains of HPV. This means that Gardasil reduces risk of infection but cannot entirely prevent it. It’s still important to take other risk reduction steps, like using condoms and dental dams.

Also note that there is another HPV vaccine available for women, but not men, called Cervarix. It only vaccinates against HPV-16 & HPV-18 (which cause most of the cancers).

I thought HPV was a women’s health issue. HPV affects women: almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Women should start getting pap smears starting at age 21. Pap smears evaluate the cervical cells for abnormalities caused by HPV.  HPV also affects men, but it’s less publicized.

So what’s the deal with HPV and men? Men are usually carriers, passing the virus on without experiencing symptoms. However, men who get HPV can develop genital warts and cancers in the anus, penis and mouth/throat region. Every year, over 7000 men are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV. For this reason, the CDC recommends men get Gardasil to reduce the risk of genital warts, cancers from HPV, and from transmitting HPV to partners.

So women can get pap smears… Is there a routine test for HPV that men can take? Unfortunately, no. You can get routine testing for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis (conveniently at Campus Health!), but there isn’t a routine HPV test for symptomless men. Emphasis on “symptomless” — if you have bumps, have a clinician evaluate them. If they are genital warts, a clinician can treat them.

Who is at a higher risk? Folks with weaker immune systems are more vulnerable to the negative outcomes of HPV.  For example, being HIV-positive. That means if you are HIV-positive or engage in activities that increase your risk for HIV, then you are at a higher risk of cancer developing if you get HPV.

Most sexually active adults will come into contact with HPV, but the effect HPV has on the body is influenced by the strength of the immune system. Gardasil is meaningful protection for people with strong or weak immune systems.

Is the vaccine safe? Are there side effects? The FDA has determined the Gardasil is safe for use, and it is made without mercury or thimerosal. Common side effects include pain or itching at the injection site, fever, and fainting.

Does insurance cover it? Check with your insurance provider. FYI, Gardasil is $360 for the entire course out of pocket (you get three injections: you get one, then you get the second 2 months later, and you get the third 4 months after that).

If you want to schedule an appointment to learn more, call Campus Health at 966-2281 or check the website for more info.

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