Overheard On Campus: I heard men can now get Gardasil to prevent some types of HPV. How does it work?

Contributed by Melissa Kelley, M.S., C.H.E.S., Michelle Cohen, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., & Erin Kaufmann, B.S.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

Being proactive about your sexual health is so important as a college student today. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases for both men and women and can cause some serious health problems if not protected against or treated properly. Fortunately, Gardasil, a vaccine for some types of HPV, as you’ll learn below, has just become recommended for men. For information on similar topics, check out the Overheard On Campus category or log in to MyStudentBody.

Portrait of young man with shaggy hair, left

Melissa Kelley, a health educator at University of Rochester, says …

Yes, Gardasil is now available and recommended for males, ages 9-26. The Gardasil vaccine guards against the 4 types of HPV that are responsible for causing the majority of cervical cancers in women and genital warts in both men and women. Gardasil works best before someone has had sexual contact with a partner. However, it is important to talk with your provider about your options, whether or not you are sexually active. The vaccine is provided in 3 doses over a six-month period. You must receive all three doses to be fully protected.

Please keep in mind that receiving the vaccine does not exempt you from the use of condoms or taking precautions against other sexually transmitted infections. It is important to decide if receiving Gardasil is right for you and to talk with your partner about the best ways to protect each other from the spread of other types of sexually transmitted infections.

Michelle Cohen, also a health educator at Georgia Tech, has more to add …

You are right! Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, is now FDA-approved for use in males aged 9-26. The purpose of Gardasil in males is to prevent genital warts. The vaccine is effective against HPV Types 6 and 11 in males, which cause 90% of cases of genital warts.

When you receive the HPV vaccine, you are being injected with an antigen that causes HPV. This antigen isn’t strong enough to cause HPV. However, it does cause your body to produce antibodies to protect against HPV. Click here for more information about how vaccines prevent diseases.

All sexually active men and women are at risk for HPV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that at least 50% of sexually active men and women will acquire genital HPV at some point in their lives. Most of these people do not have symptoms and do not know that they have it. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.

The vaccine requires three doses. The second dose should be received two months after the first and the third dose six months after the first.

Check with your insurance company to see if the vaccine is covered. If not, the vaccine is available at low cost from most campus health centers.

Erin Kaufman, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia, says …

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections among young people (wow we’re hearing this a lot) – an estimated 20 million Americans are currently infected with the virus, and about half of all sexually active people will be infected with at least one strain of the virus at some point in their lives. How can one virus affect so many people? There are at least 40 different strains of the virus, and most people who are infected do not show signs or symptoms; this means that there are lots of different strains that you could potentially pass to someone without knowing that you have them.

The body’s immune system can fight off most strains of the virus as it naturally runs its course (like a cold virus). However, there are several “high-risk” strains of HPV that can either cause genital warts or increase the risk of developing cervical cancer in women. Because certain strains of the virus have been so strongly associated with cervical cancer, the vaccines that most help prevent it were originally marketed to women. However, Gardasil has now been approved to help protect against the two most common strains of the virus that can cause genital warts in both men and women – Type 6 and 11.

The CDC now recommends that men be vaccinated as well as women because they are at risk of becoming infected with the virus and passing it to their sexual partners. The vaccine is also more effective than a barrier method (such as a condom) because the virus can infect susceptible skin that barriers may not always cover. The most immediate benefit of the Gardasil vaccine for men is the protection from genital warts. But it also reduces the spread of the virus between partners. This is especially important for men to consider if their sexual partners are women – it can reduce the chance of HPV infection associated with cervical cancer for someone they may care about. Additionally, HPV has been linked to several cancers that do affect men, like cancer of the penis and anus. Getting vaccinated is the easiest and most effective way to prevent contracting and spreading HPV.

Bottom line: Guys (as well as gals), get tested and get vaccinated for HPV.

For more sexual health-related posts, check out the Sexual Health category in Health Topics or log in to MyStudentBody and navigate to the Sexual Health section. Post a comment below to share your thoughts.

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