As of this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that boys, as well as girls, should now be vaccinated against human papillomavirus.
The HPV vaccine has been recommended for females since 2007 and permitted in males since 2010.
Human papillomaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause both benign growths (such as genital warts) and cancers. Often seen in adolescents and young adults, they are the most common sexually transmitted viruses in the U.S.
There are about 6 million cases of HPV infection in the U.S. each year. Up to 10 million adolescents and young adults are infected with HPV at any given time.
Most HPV infections resolve without complications within two years and are asymptomatic.
However, certain types of HPV cause most cervical and anal cancers in females
HPV also causes a large proportion of mouth and pharynx cancers, anal cancers and penile cancers in males.
In fact, two strains of HPV cause approximately 15,000 cases of cancer in females and 7,000 cases in males each year in the U.S.
Two HPV vaccines have been approved to help prevent the majority of these cancers in females, and one has been approved to do the same for males.
The one approved for males also will help prevent most cases of genital warts for both genders.
No vaccine will prevent all cases of these cancers, nor will the male vaccine prevent all cases of genital warts.
The HPV vaccine is given as a series of three shots. It is recommended that the series be given to both genders at 11-12 years of age – before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV.
The highest protective antibody response to the vaccine is seen in children 9-15 years old, though the series can be given to both genders between 9-26 years of age.
Side effects of the HPV vaccine include pain at the injection site, fever, dizziness and nausea.
Fainting also occurs sometimes, although this tends to be a side effect of adolescent immunizations in general.
Cervical cancer is a serious disease in the U.S. – more than 4,000 women die of it each year. That is 4,000 too many.
A vaccine that can prevent the majority of these deaths is a good thing. Immunizing males will help protect females from getting these cancers.
Immunizing females will also help protect males from those cancers that HPV can cause.