Parents wondering about HPV vaccine

Recently, parents have begun to ask me some pointed questions about the new vaccine for preventing genital warts and cervical cancer. So this week, let me take my best shot and provide some information on this new vaccine. The new vaccine everyone is talking about protects against getting infected with, or spreading strains of, human papilloma virus (or HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts and may lead to cervical cancer. The virus often times does not cause damage immediately, but can do it years later. People may not even realize they have been infected by HPV and can innocently and unknowingly pass it on to others. In fact it is estimated that 50% of sexually active women in this country will get HPV at some point in their lives if they do not get vaccinated. The new vaccine against HPV protects those who have not been previously infected that is why it is being given, ideally, as a series of three shots over a six-month period to girls 11-12 years of age who, hopefully, have not yet become sexually active, although can be used up to 26 years of age. So what are the complications of this vaccine? Some parents believe we are giving live virus to their child, but that is not true. The vaccine contains bits and pieces of killed virus and thus cannot result in the complications of live virus such as genital warts and cervical cancer. The only side effect of this vaccine that we are aware of is some soreness at the injection site, and even that is rare. Once your daughter gets this vaccine, it is important to remember that it only protects against one type of sexually transmitted disease. Therefore, make sure your daughter knows that she will still need to use appropriate protection if and when she does become sexually active. The vaccine also does not protect against all types of HPV, just the most common strains, so pap smears to monitor for cervical cancer will still be needed as your daughter gets older. Hopefully tips like this will vaccinate you against any misinformation you may encounter when it comes to making sure your teen-age daughter gets this important new vaccine. Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids archives at www.vermontchildrens.org.

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