A Tough Disease with an Easy Solution

HPV is a short acronym for a really big deal. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that causes many of the preventable cancer deaths in our country. But, there’s hope. The HPV virus has an effective vaccine that is available to all youth, ages 11 to 26.

HPV is a virus spread through sexual contact or intercourse. HPV is incredibly common; most people will come into contact with the virus at some point in their lives. However, many will never know they have it because, in most cases, the body naturally fights it off before health problems arise. But in the cases where the body’s immune system doesn’t kick in, HPV can cause health problems ranging from genital warts to abnormal pap smears to cancer.

While genital warts and abnormal pap smears are nothing to balk at, HPV-related cancers are another concern altogether. Last year, HPV-related cancers affected 17,500 women and 9,300 men. Life-altering at best and deadly at worst, these cancers are not to be taken lightly.

Because HPV is often “silent” until problems arise, an infected person can be unknowingly spreading the virus to others, quickly widening the circle of potential risk. But just as diseases like Tetanus and Hepatitis can be prevented with an immunization, the HPV vaccine is extremely effective in preventing infection. Available to all individuals, both male and female, ages 11 to 22, the HPV vaccine helps to prevent four of the strains most likely to lead to cancer.

“Many parents wonder why the vaccine is recommended for preteens,” said Jenny Delf, doctor at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic.

The reasoning for early vaccination is two-fold. First off, it’s best to protect kids from the virus before they’re ever infected. “Ideally, kids will have received the whole series of shots and the full spectrum of immunity before exposure,” Delfs said.

Secondly, the HPV vaccine produces a higher immune response in preteens than in older adolescents. “The sooner the vaccine is given, the better the protection will be,” Delfs added.

The HPV vaccine is given in three doses at zero, one and six month intervals. Caregivers, teens and young adults should talk to their medical provider about receiving the vaccine. Research indicates the vaccine is extremely effective and long lasting. Side effects are rare, with the most common being mild and including pain and redness at the injection site, fever, dizziness and nausea.

Protecting your child, yourself, or a loved one from HPV and its potentially life-threatening complications is simple. A three series shot is all it takes. Sawtooth Mountain Clinic has the HPV vaccine available. Call (218) 387-2330 today to schedule an appointment. More information on the HPV vaccine can be found at www.health.state.mn.us/immunize.

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By Amy Schmidt