What is HPV and should my daughter be vaccinated with Gardasil?

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HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus. It is a virus that is transmitted through sexual or skin-to-skin contact. There are as many as 200 types of HPV. Approximately 40 types can be transmitted sexually. Different HPV types are categorized as either high risk or low risk. Both high risk and low risk HPV types can lead to abnormal cell growth. However, only the types considered “high risk” can lead to cancer. High risk types include: 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 66, 68, and 73. Types 6 and 11 cause genital warts but not cancer. About 70% of cervical cancers are caused by types 16 and 18. About 90% of genital warts are caused by types 6 and 11.

The Gardasil vaccine vaccinates against types 16, 18, 6, and 11. The vaccine is recommended for girls between the ages of 9 and 26. The vaccine does not protect against existing HPV infections. Also, the vaccine does not contain a live or dead virus. Research is still being conducted on how long the vaccine may protect against these types of HPV.

It is estimated that 85% of sexually active persons will be infected with HPV sometime in their lives. Most infections will have no symptoms. The virus can be carried by both males and females. Approximately 11,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year and about 4,000 of those cases will end in death. Yearly Pap tests remain one of the most effective tools in diagnosing this disease, even in the early stages before cells become cancerous.

Over 10,000 adverse events to the Gardasil vaccine have been reported to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System). 6% of these reports are considered serious. Most common symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting. More serious symptoms include Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and blood clots. 27 deaths have occurred as of August 31, 2008. The Centers for Disease Control report that none of the serious symptoms have a causal relationship to the vaccine. Meaning, they have yet to find out if these conditions are directly related to the vaccine.

As with ANY vaccine, there are risks. You should be well educated on the benefits and risks before receiving this or any vaccine. In my opinion, some parents are worried about the safety of the vaccine and some are worried about the sexual implications. I am an advocate for abstinence until marriage. However, abstinence is not a cure all. My daughter could very well contract HPV from her spouse. She could also contract HPV from non-consensual contact. To be honest, my daughter is 11 and she has not received the vaccine to date. I am a mother who is also conflicted about the safety of the vaccine. I will continue to research and be educated before my daughter and I make this difficult decision.

Author: Gabriella Parker

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