Trimble: HPV silent but costly for men as well as women

By Leah Trimble

The several cylindrical bulletin boards that protrude from our campus grounds almost never catch… The several cylindrical bulletin boards that protrude from our campus grounds almost never catch my eye. To be honest, I think it’s a complete waste of time to advertise your cause in a place so populated with similar-looking paper announcements. Nothing tacked to these boards stood out to me until recently, when an informational sign grabbed my attention, finally proving wrong my theory about the posting process.

I read it over and over again. The piece of paper was advertising information and a phone number for a place where men could get vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV). My mouth dropped open, leaving me in one of those “wtf” moments.  All I could think to myself was that this was flippin’ genius!

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. The virus shows no symptoms until it turns into a more serious condition.

Ladies, this should all be old news to you since the statistics were hyped up a few years ago, but if you’re not aware, the Gardasil vaccine can prevent 75 percent of cervical cancer cases, 70 percent of vaginal cancer cases and about half of all vulvar cancer cases. That should sell you right there.

I immediately wanted to know more about the vaccine for men. After finding the original announcement of approval for use of the HPV vaccine in boys and men on the FDA’s website, I noticed the date. The news report was released Oct. 16, 2009. So why was I finding out about it now?

Later on, I asked what seemed like everyone I knew if they had heard about approval. Not one had. It’s almost as if Merck, the company that makes Gardasil, considers this to be only a mediocre development not worthy of magazine ad space and daytime television. Did they run out of money for advertising, or do they just believe that women are the sole contributors and receivers of the horrible outcomes caused by HPV? If I were a guy and no one told me about this, I would be extremely angry.

In fact, I remember the endless commercials and almost obsessive stance my doctor had when Gardasil first entered the medical market for women. I thought it was just another ploy for pharmaceutical companies to make a profit — until I looked at the alarming statistics. So why haven’t we seen any clever yet ultimately scary informational commercials telling men that they too can get this form of protection against STIs?

Now, I am not one to preach about STI prevention to my peers. We are adults now, and if you are stupid enough to omit a condom from the experience, then that is the risk you’re both willing to take. But in this situation, where a proven preventative treatment is available, I will be happy to promote the cause.

In both men and women, the HPV vaccine can help prevent 90 percent of genital warts cases. Based on the FDA’s statistics, two out of every 1,000 men in the United States are newly diagnosed each year.

If you’re still not convinced, imagine your private parts covered in massive warts. I can only imagine that it’s not the loveliest sight. I’m sure the procedure to get them cut off isn’t very pleasant either.

Anyone ages nine to 26 can receive the round of three shots given in a total of six months.

Dr. Elizabeth Wettick, medical director of Pitt’s Student Health Service, said that Pitt’s facilities do provide the vaccine for men, but the pharmacy charges $145 for each of the three shots. After you complete the rounds, you can submit the claim to your insurance.

“For students who are insured, we often recommend that they get the vaccine through whomever their insurance views as their primary care provider, and, in that way, the student can ensure that their insurance will cover the total cost of the vaccine,” Wettick said.

There are also several clinics, such as the Planned Parenthood branch Downtown, that offer the vaccine based on a sliding scale or even at no cost, depending upon your income.

In regards to those holding back because of any preconceived notions, Wettick said that “it is still recommended that the vaccine is given even after an adolescent/young adult has been sexually active.”

Some people are still adjusting to the thought of vaccinations for STIs. The HPV vaccine is still relatively new, and its long-term viability is unknown. According to HPVHealth.net, three girls have died as a result of being vaccinated.

But Wettick feels strongly about prevention. “I believe that the greater number of individuals who receive the HPV vaccine, the better, as this will help to decrease HPV transmission and overall disease burden for both males and females,” she said.

She’s right. One vaccine can prevent a lifetime of health problems, some incurable, and it can especially prevent those issues from being spread from person to person.

HPV is a silent killer that we can all take caution against. Despite the fact that women have been targeted as the HPV vaccination’s main audience — possibly because women are at risk for more diseases after contracting the STI — men still stand to benefit from getting vaccinated. Who wouldn’t want to be protected against possible cancers and genital infections? This is a no-brainer. Call and make an appointment today if you haven’t already.

E-mail Leah at [email protected]

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