According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, there are about 60 different types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted. Some cause visible warts; however, others stay invisible in the skin or mucous membranes. Some infections can develop into cancerous growths. On October 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that boys be vaccinated against HPV; previously, the CDC has recommended the vaccine for females. The new recommendation is that boys ages 11 and 12 receive the HPV vaccine Gardasil. The recommendation is likely to transform the use of the HPV vaccine because most private insurers pay for vaccines once the CDC recommends them for routine use. The vaccine is expensive: its three doses cost physicians more than $300; furthermore, a charge is often added for administering the vaccine. In addition to 11 and 12 year old boys, the CDC recommends vaccination of males ages 13 through 21 who had not already had all three injections. The vaccine may be given to boys as young as nine as well as men between the ages of 22 and 26.
The vaccine has attracted controversy because the disease it prevents results from sexual activity. It also became a source of contention among Republican presidential candidates after some candidates criticized Governor Rick Perry of Texas for attempting to require that girls in his state be vaccinated. Representative Michele Bachmann falsely stated that the vaccine could cause mental retardation.
An HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease; 75-80% of both genders in the U.S. will be infected at some point in their lives. Most will overcome the infection with no ill effects; however, in some individuals, infections lead to cellular changes that cause warts or cancer, including cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women and anal cancers in men and women. A growing body of evidence suggests that HPV also causes throat cancers in men and women as a result of oral sex. HPV infections cause about 15,000 cancers in women and 7,000 cancers in men annually. While cervical cancer rates have decreased over the past four decades because of widespread screening, anal cancer rates in men and women have been increasing. Head and neck cancers have also been increasing, with the share associated with HPV infection increasing markedly; this phenomenon might be due to the increase in popularity of oral sex.
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