HPV – Prevent It & Learn About the Vaccine

January 30, 2012 12:00 PM with Dr. Kenneth Fox

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Most men and women who have human papillomavirus (HPV) -- the most common sexually transmitted infection -- don’t even know they have it. Learn about how to prevent and protect your kids from the disease. Dr. Kenneth Fox, pediatrician at NorthShore answers your questions about this condition, its symptoms and the HPV vaccine. Your participation and early questions are welcomed.

Angela (Moderator) - 11:46 AM:
Welcome! Today’s chat: HPV – Prevent It & Learn about the Vaccine will begin shortly. Please start submitting your questions and Kenneth Fox, MD will begin answering them as soon as we get started. While you are waiting for the chat to begin, feel free to read our recent blog post, Protecting Young People from HPV Infection. We will do our best to answer all of your questions, but because this is such a popular chat, the physician may not be able to answer all of your questions in the time allowed. Your understanding is greatly appreciated.

Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore) - 12:01 PM:
Human papilloavirus (HPV) is a common virus simply spread by skin to skin contact. There are many types of HPV. 40 of these types can infect the genital areas, mouth or throat of people during sexual contact. Over 80% of sexually active women and over 50% of sexually active men will have acquired genital HPV infection at some point during their lives. This makes genital HPV the most common sexually trasmitted infection (STI). Parents and patients can take important steps to help reduce HPV infection risk. I am a community pediatrician at Evanston Pediatrics, so welcome to the chat and serve up any HPV questions you have.

  Yvonne (Romeoville, IL) - 12:02 PM:
Can you get rid of HPV or do you have it for life?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Most HPV infections (as many as 90%) are easily cleared by the immune system in healthy people within 2 years.

  Kate (Chicago, IL) - 12:05 PM:
What are some of the long-term risks of HPV infection? Am I at a greater risk for other sexually transmitted infections and cancer if I have HPV?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
There are several long term risks of HPV infection. These include cervical cancers and pre-cancers (abnormal Pap screens), vaginal, vulvar, penile and anal cancers, some head and neck cancers as well as genital warts. The presence of genital warts may make the skin more vulnerable to other infections including some sexually transmitted ones.

  FRESH (CHGO, IL) - 12:10 PM:
What are the symptoms?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Most HPV infections are asymptomatic, especially in men. Most people who become infected remain unaware of it and so can infect their partners before they clear it on their own. If genital warts occur they may look like a fleshy bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat or even cauliflower shaped. Cervical cancer or pre-cancer does not usually have symptoms until it's very advanced, but would be evident on a Pap smear. That's why routine regular screening for cervical cancer in women is so important. An abnormal screen can uncover disease early on-- even before full blown cancer develops.

  Matt (Highland Park, IL) - 12:18 PM:
I’ve heard that you can get HPV from sharing cups and from drinking foundations. Is this true?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Most often, HPV is transmitted by direct skin to skin contact during intimate acts-- during oral, vaginal or anal sex. The virus can also be spread digitally (on hands and fingers). Infection through contaminated objects (or fomites) is also theoretically possible, though not via casual contact. Rarely, a pregnant mom with genital HPV can pass infection to her newborn during delivery.

  Devon (Wilmette) - 12:26 PM:
Why is it important for children to get the HPV vaccine? Is a good idea to coincide talking about the vaccine when talking to my son about safe sex?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
HPV is a preventable illness because vaccination of young people ages 9-26 is now possible. The vaccine protects people from the most common types of HPV infection, but the benefit and protection are greatest when all three doses of vaccine occur BEFORE a person is ever exposed to the virus. Since infection often occurs within the first three years of sexual initiation, vaccinating children early on is very important. Combining frank discussion of all the ways of staying safe-- abstinence, delay of onset, limiting partners, using condoms and getting vaccinated--when talking about sex is a good approach.

  kb (evanston) - 12:33 PM:
Do you recommend that anyone that is HPV negative regardless of age receive the HPV vaccination?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
The vaccine is available for people ages 9-26 yrs old. The greatest benefit occurs among those never previously exposed to the virus, however there are benefits to gain even among those previously exposed.

  Jess (Glenview) - 12:36 PM:
I read that you can have HPV, but not even know it. How long can the infection stay dormant before symptoms appear? Can you still infect someone even if you don’t have symptoms?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Infection is often asymptomatic, and though the vast majority of infections are cleared within 2 years, sometimes they persist. So an asymptomatic person may pass on the infection until his/her own infection has been cleared. In the case of genital warts, these can show up within weeks or months after contact with an infected partner. Cancers, like cervical cancer may take decades to appear. And remember, most of these infections are evident only on Pap smear.

  FRESH (CHGO, IL) - 12:42 PM:
You said that one can have it in the throat. What would the symptoms be / look like?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
This would be evident using a special scope at the doctor's office. However, symptoms might include pain or changes in voice.

  Allie (Chicago, IL) - 12:44 PM:
How does the vaccine for males and females differ? What is the recommended age for a child to get it?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
Vaccine for males and females is the same and is given in 3 doses at specific intervals. In our practice we have the Gardasil vaccine (which protects against both 4 strains of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer and genital warts). If you received dose #1 today, 2nd dose is in 2 months, and 3rd is in six months. Vaccine can be given to children as young as age 9 and up to age 26 yrs.

  Mary (Skokie, IL) - 12:49 PM:
I’m 19 and have been sexually active with multiple partners for the last couple of years. I think that I may have HPV. How do I know? What tests will my doctor do?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
You should go to your doctor for a pelvic exam and Pap smear test.

  Leslee (Evanston, IL) - 12:50 PM:
Will HPV go away if I don’t treat it? Should I still get the vaccine even if I am already infected?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
The majority of infections are transient and asymptomatic. Among women 70% of infections are cleared in 1 yr, 90% in 2 years. Among men about 60% clear in 1 year, 75% in 2 years. If a person is already infected, there is less benefit to be gained. However, since there are so many different strains of virus, you may still gain some benefit from being vaccinated (as the vaccine covers 4 types). Vaccine is available to people ages 9-26 yrs old.

Angela (Moderator) - 12:50 PM:
Thank you everyone for your great participation. The chat will be ending in approximately 10 minutes. Please submit your final questions.

  Beth (Chicago, IL) - 12:55 PM:
I always thought it was most important for females to get the vaccine. Why was there a more recent shift for boys and men to also get vaccinated for HPV? Who is the biggest carrier?
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
It is still important for everyone of appropriate age to be vaccinated. The vaccine was first available only to women beginning in 2006. In 2009, evidence from studies was in that made clear the benefits to males as well. So though the same vaccine is used, it was first available to women.

Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore) - 1:01 PM:
This has been a real pleasure. Remember stay safe, vaccinate and get the best information available from your doctor.

  smith (Skokie, IL) - 1:02 PM:
I'm really embarrassed about having HPV. It has affected both my past and current relationships. Are support groups available? Do you recommend any resources.
Dr. Kenneth Fox (NorthShore)
It's hard, but it's best to be open, honest and proactive about staying safe, protecting yourself and your partner from harm to the extent possible. Your primary doctor should be a great resource. But I also recommend excellent online materials through the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Angela (Moderator) - 1:05 PM:
Thank you again for participating in our chat today. A transcript of this chat will be available shortly.

This chat has ended.

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