Human papillomavirus (HPV) is remarkably easy to prevent—provided you get the Gardasil vaccine before you start honing your hookup skills.
And yet a huge swath of the sexually active population have no idea they can contract, carry, and pass along this virus's many strains. Nor are they in the know that they can inoculate themselves against it.
Who makes up this not-so-blissfully ignorant bunch? According to a brand new study in the March edition of Health Education Journal: College dudes. Around 88 percent of undergrad men have no clue that HPV's risks (and solutions) apply to their gender.
Here's why that's a major dilemma:Guys Are Putting YOU at Risk
Because researchers linked HPV to cervical cancer back in the '80s, the virus has long been considered a women's health-care issue alone. Add that there isn't (yet) an effective, routine way to test men for HPV plus the fact that men rarely show symptoms if they carry it, urologist Philip Werthman, M.D., tells Cosmopolitan.com.
Still, around 9,000 guys contract HPV each year, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while men are less likely than women to get the cancerous brunt of HPV's strains, they can easily pass on the infection to pretty much anyone they go down on, make out with, or decide to have sex with sans condom. Not as much a concern if their partners have been vaccinated. But bad news if they haven't, since their unvaccinated female partners' odds of developing genital warts, and anal, cervical, and throat cancers suddenly go way up.
Like, all of them. Before they become sexually active. Which means getting the memo to pediatricians who can vaccinate them before they hit puberty, says Werthman. (Think: age 9-ish through 11.) Even if they haven't been vaccinated before puberty, straight men should still get vaccinated through age 21.
"The vaccine should also be given to gay and bisexual young men, and those men with weak immune systems through age 26," Sherry Ross, M.D., ob-gyn and Women's Health Expert at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Cosmopolitan.com. (Research suggests men who have sex with men are 17 times more prone to HPV-related anal cancer than their strictly hetero peers.)
Not only is the vaccine relatively easy to obtain and administer, but Ross says its side effects are barely existent. More sensitive types may (as with any vaccine) feel dizzy, slightly feverish, or achy in their joints. And as with any vaccine, there's always a rare risk of allergic reaction. But considering how many cases of cervical, anal, throat cancers (plus the uncomfortable appearance of genital warts) the HPV vaccine can prevent, Ross agrees with most docs that "these minor side effects are well worth the risk."Spread the Word
Pediatricians and sex educators shoulder most of the burden of informing young patients and parents on the wisdom of vaccinating guys against HPV. But if you'd like to do your part in getting the message to more male ears, consider sharing the following facts about HPV and its prevention with any uninformed fellas in your social network:
- Half of all men may have HPV.
- Roughly 14 million new cases of HPV get diagnosed each year—including those 9,000 guys mentioned above.
- Cases of HPV-related anal and throat cancers are rising. In fact, the CDC anticipates these diagnoses will surpass the number of yearly cervical cancer cases by 2020 if more isn't done in the way of vaccinating both genders.
- Genital (or anal) warts pop up around two to three months following HPV infection
- No life-threatening safety concerns have been linked to the HPV vaccine since its 2006 debut.