Genital warts and cancer are risks for boys and men, too. The government may recommend vaccination
By Kurtis Hiatt
Posted: November 12, 2010
For men, the potential consequences of infection by the human papillomavirus are nasty, like genital warts, and even life-threatening, as penile and anal cancers. But these complications are quite rare. For the average guy, the virus lies silent, doesn’t cause problems, and clears in a year or two.
Still, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, and the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is deliberating whether to issue a public recommendation that boys and men be vaccinated with Gardasil, the only HPV vaccine approved for that group, just as it’s recommended for women. There is no easy answer. Experts must weigh the cost of immunizing against the benefits, which could include fewer cases of HPV-related cervical cancer in female partners but most of the time is just about staving off a few relatively harmless warts. They also want to wait and see whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will allow Gardasil maker Merck to market the vaccine for the prevention of anal cancer; currently it is approved for preventing cervical cancer in females between the ages of 9 and 26 and genital warts in males and females in that same age group. The FDA is expected to make a decision by the end of the year. ACIP officials will consider the FDA’s action in making their recommendation, which could come as soon as February, says Lauri Markowitz, leader of ACIP’s HPV working group. For now, though, men and parents of boys are on their own. They can request the three-shot series, and doctors are free to provide it.
So far, however, demand has been underwhelming. “Let’s just say they’re not knocking down the doors asking for it,” says Michael Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston. And from a professional perspective, he says, “it’s not a standard protocol for your average 11-year-old boy, you know, troopin’ in for his physical.” But it’s still something some parents will ponder.