A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel is recommending that Gardasil, the vaccine given to girls and young women to prevent infection by human papillomavirus (HPV), be made available to boys and young men 9 to 26 years old as protection against genital warts caused by HPV.
The vaccine protects against four strains of human HPV, which males can carry and transmit sexually to partners. In males, HPV can cause genital warts (about 200 out of every 100,000 males are diagnosed each year) and penile and anal cancer (which are much rarer).
Gardasil was approved for use in females ages 9 to 26 as protection against cervical cancer in 2006 and, more recently, against cancers of the vagina and vulva. The vaccine would be administered to males in the same way it's given to females: three doses over a 6-month period.
In studies, Gardasil was 89% effective in preventing genital warts, although it was less effective in those who had already been exposed to HPV. The most commonly reported adverse events were fever and headache.
The FDA now must decide whether to approve the vaccine for this new use, which it is likely to do — while not required to follow advisory panel recommendations, it often does.
What This Means to You
Genital warts, sometimes called venereal warts, are growths or bumps contracted through sexual contact. HPV is extremely common, affecting more than half of sexually active people at some point in their lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately half of those infected are ages 14 to 24.
Prevention is key because there's no cure for an HPV infection. Genital warts can be treated and removed with prescription medication or other medical procedures, such as freezing or laser treatments, but because the HPV remains dormant in the body, they may reappear at any time after treatment. Those who have had one outbreak of genital warts still carry the virus and can infect others. Someone who has had HPV can also get a new HPV infection from another partner.
Like most STDs, HPV infections and genital warts can only be prevented for certain by not having sex or by having sex only with one uninfected partner. Condoms do offer some protection against HPV, but they can't completely prevent infections because the warts can be outside of the area protected by the condom. Spermicidal foams, creams, and jellies have not been proven to protect against HPV and genital warts.
So, even if your kids aren't sexually active and won't be for a long time, the HPV vaccine given before they become intimate with anyone is an effective way to protect them against infection. If you have any questions about the vaccine, and whether it's appropriate for your child, talk with your doctor.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Review date: September 2009