HPV Vaccine Now Available

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The Air Force Immunizations program now has Gardasil available for all active duty and dependant females eligible for the vaccine. Gardasil is the only vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help prevent cervical cancer in girls and women. Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the Human Papillomavirus. When a female becomes infected with these types of HPV and the virus doesn't go away on its own, abnormal cells can develop in the lining of the cervix. If not discovered early and treated, these abnormal cells can become precancerous and eventually lead to cancer.

Gardasil protects girls and women against the four most common types of the Human Papillomavirus, including the two types that cause more than 70 percent of cervical cancers and the two types that cause more than 90 percent of genital warts. Studies have found the vaccine to be almost 100 percent effective in preventing diseases caused by the four HPV types covered by the vaccine. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the types that can cause cervical cancer. About two out of three people who have sexual contact with a person who has genital warts will also get them. And even if the genital warts are treated, 25 percent of cases come back within three months if HPV is still present.

HPV is easily transmitted. At least 50 percent of sexually active people will get HPV at some time in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 20 million people in the United States already had HPV in 2005. Of the approximate 6 million new cases of HPV in the United States every year, it is estimated that 74 percent of them occur in 15-to-24-year-olds.

Gardasil is recommended for girls and women ages 9 to 26 and is best given before any exposure to the HPV virus. Research on the vaccine's safety and efficacy has only recently begun with women older than 26 years of age. Therefore, it is not currently recommended for older women. If a female has already been infected with HPV, she may still benefit from the vaccine because it is unlikely that she has been exposed to all four types of HPV contained in the vaccine. Although the vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancers, it does not protect against all forms of cervical cancer. Therefore, it is important that women continue with regular Pap smears for cervical cancer screening. Gardasil is not intended to treat cervical cancer.

It is not yet known if the vaccine is effective in boys or men. It is possible that vaccinating males will have health benefits for them by preventing genital warts and rare cancers, such as penile and anal cancer. It is also possible that vaccinating boys and men will have indirect health benefits for girls and women. Studies are now being done to find out if the vaccine works to prevent HPV infection and disease in males. When more information is available, this vaccine may be licensed and recommended for boys and men as well.

Since Gardasil prevents HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, it is important that it be given before a female becomes sexually active. In fact, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that Gardasil be routinely given to girls when they are 11 or 12 years of age and can be given to girls as young as 9. Gardasil is not a STD vaccine and it will not protect against other forms of STDs. Gardasil is given in three injections over a six-month period. Anyone who is allergic to any component of the vaccine should not receive Gardasil and it is not for girls or women who are pregnant. Girls and women do not need to get an HPV test or Pap test prior to getting the vaccine. According to the CDC, there appear to be no serious side effects. The most common side effect is brief soreness at the injection site.

If interested in receiving Gardasil or need more information on this and other vaccines come by the 47th Medical Group Immunizations Clinic between the hours of 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 to 4:30 p.m. or call 298-6469 during normal duty hours.

Additional information can be found on the Internet at www.gardasil.com, www.cdc.gov/std/hpv, and www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/STDFact-HPV-vaccine.htm