The many myths about the HPV cancer preventing vaccine, known as Gardasil, have been critical in keeping uptake of the vaccine low. For example, many parents believe that their children will never engage in risky sexual behavior, so why do they need to give them the HPV vaccine? Of course, this ignores the facts that sexual assault and the sexual history of future partners can lead to HPV infection.
A newly published article also may show that male virgins (and presumably female virgins) can contract an HPV infection. HPV is so infectious that it can be transmitted even without sexual intercourse.
Let’s examine this new study which is more conclusive evidence that parents should seriously consider getting the vaccine for their children.
All about HPV and the cancer preventing vaccine
I know, I’ve written about this vaccine 100 times, so you’ve read these paragraphs enough to quote them without looking. Actually, I change it up with new information frequently.
However, for some of you, this might be your first bit of research into the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, so it’s important to get a brief overview of HPV and the vaccines. If you’ve read this before, just skip to the next section if you want.
Genital and oral HPV are the most common sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the USA. There are more than 150 strains or subtypes of HPV that can infect humans, although only 40 of these strains are linked to a variety of cancers. HPV is generally transmitted from personal contact during vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Although the early symptoms of HPV infections aren’t serious, those infections are closely linked to many types of cancers in men and women. According to current medical research, here are some of the cancers that are linked to HPV:
These are all dangerous and disfiguring cancers that can be mostly prevented by the HPV cancer vaccine. If you’re a male, and you think that these are mostly female cancers, penile cancer can lead to amputation of your penis. Just think about that guys.
HPV is believed to cause nearly 5% of all new cancers across the world, making it almost as dangerous as tobacco with respect to cancer. According to the CDC, roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV–approximately 14 million Americans contract a new HPV every year. Most individuals don’t even know they have the infection until the onset of cancer. About 27,000 HPV-related cancers are diagnosed in the USA every year.
There were two HPV vaccines on the market before 2014. GSK, also known as GlaxoSmithKline manufactured Cervarix, a bivalent vaccine, but it has been withdrawn from the US market, because of the competition from the other HPV vaccines. In Europe and other markets, Gardasil is known as Silgard.
Merck manufactures the other HPV vaccines. Its first vaccine, the quadrivalent Gardasil, targets the two HPV genotypes known to cause about 70% of cervical cancer and two other HPV genotypes that cause genital warts. The newer Gardasil 9, approved by the FDA in 2014, is a 9-valent vaccine. It targets the four HPV genotypes in the quadrivalent version, along with five additional ones that are linked to cervical and other types of cancer. Both versions of Gardasil are prophylactic, meant to be given before females or males become exposed to possible HPV infection through intimate contact.
HPV infection of male virgins
According to a new study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases by Liu et al, male virgins who did not have penetrative sex were found to be infected with HPV, although at a lower rate than non-virgins. This study provides us with significant evidence that an HPV infection does not necessarily require sexual relations to pass the infection. Additionally, the study showed that nearly half of the men who were previously virgins and had penetrative sex during the study got an HPV infection within two years.
The study, which included men between the ages of 18 and 70 years from Tampa, Florida, USA, São Paulo, Brazil and Cuernavaca, Mexico, examined their sexual behavior through interviews and follow-up visits over a six year period of time.
In all, 87 men in the study were deemed virgins compared to 3,834 who were non-virgins. For the purpose of this study, virgins were defined as those men who reported never having had oral or penetrative sex. Furthermore, none of the virgins tested positive for any other sexually transmitted infections (STI) other than an HPV infection.
The rate of HPV infection among those who were virgins was close to that of non-virgins – 26.2 infections per 1000 person-months compared to 28.8 per 1000 person-months, respectively.
The authors concluded that:
It is postulated that nonpenetrative sexual contact is a possible route for HPV acquisition among VNIS, although these infections may include detection of nonproductive infections. Future prospective studies with a larger sample of virgins that collect information on nonpenetrative sex behavior … and sample HPV from nonpenile sites (eg, hand, oral and anal sites) are necessary to better understand HPV transmission among virgins.
This study should help dismiss the belief that an HPV infection can only result from sexual relationships. Human papilloma virus is so pervasive, infecting millions of people, that short of having your children live in a bubble of some sort, they are going to be susceptible to an HPV infection.
The HPV vaccine can prevent these infections. And the new Gardasil vaccine prevents infection from 9 different HPV subtypes that are linked to cancers. Unless you want to completely ignore the evidence, HPV infections are linked to many cancers, and we have evidence that the HPV vaccine does indeed prevent these cancers.
We have an obligation to protect our children from diseases like cancer. And here we have a very safe vaccine that can protect your children from many dangerous cancers.
- Liu Z, Nyitray AG, Hwang LY, Swartz MD, Abrahamsen M, Lazcano-Ponce E, Villa LL, Giuliano AR. Acquisition, Persistence, and Clearance of Human Papillomavirus Infection among Male Virgins Residing in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. J Infect Dis. 2017 Nov 18. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jix588. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 29165581.