This Men’s Health Week, let’s celebrate the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine. Why are we celebrating a vaccine for Men’s Health Week? Let’s break it down:
First, HPV is the most common STD in the country. Yes, the most common. It can be transmitted orally, vaginally, or anally. Often, there are no symptoms, during which time the virus can still be transmitted.
Next, men cannot be tested for HPV. The test is only available to women. While men are often asymptomatic and don’t typically experience most of the negative health outcomes resulting from HPV, they do play a substantial role in transmission.
Finally, because the majority of men are having heterosexual sexual encounters the majority of the time, men are the primary source of the spread of the virus to women. And women do experience the negative health outcomes of HPV. HPV can cause genital warts. It can also cause cervical cancer.
Luckily, there is a new HPV vaccine! The most recent iteration of the vaccine protects against nine of the most high-risk strains of the virus. But, when the original vaccine was first approved in 2006 it protected against only four, and was recommended primarily for young women in their teens. Providing the HPV vaccine to women was a potential game-changer in terms of cervical cancer and genital warts.
Unfortunately, the game remains the same. Several years ago, controversy over the vaccine arose - oftentimes fueled by misguided politicians. This is in part due to misinformation that the shot was dangerous (and even deadly), as well as claims that receiving the shot would increase the sexual promiscuity of young women, the vaccine has not been adopted in high numbers.
The good news is that the FDA has provided updated guidelines for the use of the new-and-improved vaccine. Not only do they extend the age limit to 45, but they also encourage men to seek the vaccine. Women are still encouraged to get vaccinated, but these new guidelines allow men to take part in preventing the spread of HPV.
HPV is extremely common, men cannot be tested for it, and men are often unknowingly responsible for its spread. This Men’s Health Week is a good chance to remind men to get tested for STDs. It’s also a perfect opportunity for men to ask for the HPV vaccine and be protected against the only STD they cannot be tested for.