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HPV stands for Human Papilloma Virus. This virus is associated with causing cervical cancer and genital warts. The two major types of HPV are HPV-16 and HPV-18. HPV-6 and HPV-11 are the cause of genital warts. HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. The virus is associated with 4% of all cancers, so it can be classified as a significant carcinogen.
Although, there are more than 40 types of HPV; some will go undetected by ordinary testing methods. These viruses may infect a person without his knowledge and disappear without being detected. The immune system of the body gets rid of some HPV viruses without the person noticing. This happens to 90% of the general population and the infections disappear within a period of two years. The immune system is responsible for getting rid of high and low risk HPV types. If the infection is stubborn and stays in the body, abnormal cells develop in the lining of the cervix, and can be cancerous.
Kinds of Vaccines
Presently, there are two kinds of HPV vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix. These vaccines can help in the prevention of anal, vulva, virginal, and penile cancer. There are only two types of HPV vaccine: bivalent vaccine, which protects against HPV 16 and 18; quadrivalent vaccines prevent the body from HPV virus 6, 11, 16, and 18, the main cause of cervical cancer infection, while 6 and 11 cause genital warts. Bivalent vaccine protects against cervical cancer, while quadrivalent protects against cervical cancer, genital warts, vaginal cancer, and cancer of the vulva.
HPV vaccine is normally administered to women below the age of 26 years; the vaccine is of immense benefit at this age. Although women above this age get advice to have a constant screening for cervical cancer, as it is of little help at an older age. The vaccine is of a prophylactic type, which promotes the body’s immunity by producing antibodies that eliminate the HPV virus. This is of the main importance to vaccinate the body at a younger age when the body is still strong and powerful. A pap test detects cell changes of the cervix before they become cancerous and can detect cervical cancer at a treatable stage.
Vaccination reduces morbidity and mortality rates in the community. The administration of vaccines to girls at a young age is very critical since it boosts immunity levels against the virus. The CDC committee recommended that older teens and women who have not received full vaccination in the past should receive catch up vaccination to intensify their immunity levels (Gardner).
The main method of HVP transmission is through sexual intercourse. This virus can be transmitted through anal and normal sex, and skin-to-skin contact. It is important to note that, this virus can also spread from one person to the other through hand-genital transmission and oral sex. Another rare form of transmission is that of mother to child during birth. If this kind of transmission occurs, the newborn gets warts in the throat. These warts are referred to as Respiratory Papillomatosis. Once the HPV virus is inside the body, it affects skin cells. The signs and symptoms may not appear immediately, and the virus may remain active for two years or more. After that, it becomes inactive and lives in the body as a dormant virus; however, transmission is possible from one person to another.
Symptoms of HPV
One symptom of HPV is genital warts that appear raised, flat, pink, or flesh colored on the part of skin that is infected, especially genital parts. HPV virus commonly lives in mucous membrane on the genital area or in a breaking part of the skin. The doctor does HPV virus diagnosis visually or looks for signs like warts. Mostly, the HPV that causes warts are not likely the one that causes cancer. In addition, using DNA test to detect the virus in women and inspect cell changes that may be cancerous can be of help in HPV detection.
Another symptom or sign of HPV is the development of cervical cancer; cervical cancer is not easily detected unless at advanced stages and so, regular screening of women is essential to determine if a person has cervical cancer. HPV viruses are hard to detect until at an advanced stage which are harder to treat. HPV signs and symptoms include cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharynx. Another sign is the development of RRP (Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis), a condition where a wart grows in the throat and causes blockage of the airway. The outcome is a hoarse voice and difficulties in breathing.
Why Young Girls Should Be Vaccinated
The cervix of a young girl has a transformation zone where cells are continually changing. This place is very vulnerable to the development of abnormal cells, although they can be identified through a Pap smear. The transformation zone is positioned on the immature and outer surface of the cervix. In older women, the transformation zone may be in the upper part of the cervical tube. A young girl who engages in sexual intercourse is more vulnerable to getting sexually transmitted diseases than an adult woman. In the U.S., the vulnerability of the girls is higher because they are given scanty information with the fear that sex education will cause more harm than good. This makes them to engage in sex while thinking that they are safe.
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In the U.S., 20 million people are infected with HPV at any time of their lifetime and most of them cannot notice if he or she is sick unless in advanced stages. Infection to HPV occurs to a person who is sexually active at an early age, and if the person has multiple sex partners, or have a sex partner who has multiple sex partners. However, the vaccine is of no value to pregnant women; if administered during pregnancy, it does not give reason for pregnancy termination; rather, the woman should stop the shots and proceed with the shots after birth.
It is highly recommended that girls of ages 11 and 12 should receive the vaccine shot before they are sexually active. A CDC report released in 2009 showed that the virus is very common among young girls. In the U.S. alone, 25% of young girls aged 15-18 had the virus (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). This implies that if they are not treated, they may succumb into cervical cancer and, later, death. Lack of proper knowledge of vaccination has put girls in jeopardy; ignorance causes the girls not to be vaccinated. This role of ignorance is played by parents who assume their daughters are not sexually active and thus do not see the need for the vaccine. Although, children make visits to doctors for immunization at a tender age; once they get to their teenage years they visit doctors less frequent and so doing they do not get a chance to be vaccinated against HPV. The vaccine requires three trips to the physician. It is recommended that doctors should give appointments for the second and third doses and send reminders for next visits (Rubin). It is also essential for the health care providers to promote and educate parents and young women on HPV vaccination; so that they can take the extra step to ensure that they receive vaccination. According to statistics released in 2002, 7% of all cancers in women were cervical cancer.
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Other Ways of Preventing HPV transmission
Other than the vaccine, HPV infections can be lowered by the usage of condoms for every sexual act. The vaccine emphasizes mostly on the prevention of HPV- 16, which is the major cause of cancer.
One can avoid HPV infection by ensuring to undergo vaccination early enough; and if one has not received the shots then usage of condoms is essential. It is crucial for sex partners to be faithful to one another and avoid multiple partners because it is possible for one to be a carrier of the virus and transmit it to his or her partner. Genital warts are not life threatening, but they are intensely uncomfortable when being treated, and they can cause emotional distress. The vaccine is long lasting, and the studies that have been conducted on vaccinated women have shown that the vaccine does not reduce one’s immunity. Furthermore, studies have shown that the vaccine does not prevent all the causes of cervical cancer. Therefore, it is advisable that a woman should maintain regular screening for cervical cancer. In addition, the vaccine does not prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although it is a controversial issue, sex education to the young girls is very important. They will understand the benefits of the vaccine and know the future risks. Pap smear tests are very important even after a young girl has been vaccinated. This test can detect any changes within the cervix, and problems can be treated earlier. This may reduce cases of mortality among young girls because cervical cancer is hard to treat and the cost of treatment is very expensive.