Talking to your teens about sexually transmitted diseases |

Talking to your teens about sexually transmitted diseases

Boys and girls should get vaccinated for the human papillomavirus, a common yet dangerous infection

By Lauren Glendenning and Lynn Nichols Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
It’s important to talk to your children about practicing abstinence or safe sex. The human papillomavirus is a very common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and it can lead to various cancers in both men and women.
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What is HPV?
  •       HPV stands for human papillomavirus, a group of more than 150 related viruses.
  •       HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.
  •       HPV can cause cancer of the mouth/throat, and anus/rectum in both men and women.
  •       HPV can cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women.
  •       HPV can cause penile cancer in men.
  •       HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
  •       Nearly 80 million Americans are currently infected with a type of HPV.
  •       HPV is a sexually transmitted infection.
  •       An HPV vaccine is available for children as young as 9 and adults up to the age of 26. The vaccine is recommended for children ages 11 or 12.
*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When was the last time you spoke to your teenage son or daughter about sex? Have you ever had the conversation?

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), young people ages 15 to 24 are acquiring nearly half of all new sexually transmitted diseases. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea are on the rise among teens. In 2016, there were more than two million total cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis reported in the United States, a new record, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released by the CDC.

There’s one sexually transmitted infection that is so common nearly all people will get it at some point in their lifetime, according to the CDC. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, can lead to various cancers in men and women, as well as genital warts.

There are more than 100 kinds of HPV, but not all of them cause health problems, said Dr. Scott Ellis, an OB/GYN with Memorial Regional Health. Four types of HPV — 6, 11, 16 and 18 — are particularly worrisome when it comes to cervical health in women, he said.

HPV can also cause cancers of the penis in men, and anal, head and neck cancers in both men and women, according to the CDC.

HPV vaccine

Children and adults up to the age of 26 years old can protect themselves by getting the HPV vaccine. The CDC reports that 63 percent of girls aged 13 to 17 had received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine in 2015, and 42 percent had received all recommended doses in the vaccine series. Of boys, 50 percent aged 13 to 17 had received at least one dose, but only 28 percent received all recommended doses.

The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for boys and girls aged 11 to 12. It can be given as early as 9 years old and as late as 26 years old. The vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers, according to Ellis. The CDC recommends two doses of the vaccine for boys and girls under the age of 15, and three doses for those who start the vaccination series after turning 15.

Gynecological exams

HPV infections usually clear up on their own, but when a Pap test — the vaginal exam that is commonly done annually for women over the age of 21 — comes back abnormal, follow-up tests are often ordered. Since HPV is central to the vast majority of cervical abnormalities, according to Ellis, it’s important to get checked for HPV regularly and to use condoms when sexually active.

While the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidance says that teenage girls do not officially need a gynecological exam or Pap test until they become sexually active or reach the age of 21, it is a good idea to introduce them to the habit of an annual exam, Ellis said.

Ellis finds that it’s normal to feel nervous about an abnormal Pap test result, but most of the time it is not cancer. It may point to an infection or abnormal cells, called dysplasia. It can also indicate herpes or occur if the patient has recently had sex. Approximately one in 10 Pap tests come back abnormal. The test is not 100 percent accurate and there will be occasional false positives. Treatment ranges from a wait-and-see approach that involves another Pap test in the near future to a diagnostic biopsy. Most of the time an abnormal Pap test result is benign.

It’s important to talk about how to avoid STDs with your teen. Options include having safe sex (using condoms), staying abstinent, getting tested if sexually active, having just one partner, knowing how far you are comfortable going and vowing to stick to it—and being comfortable with saying no. If you haven’t talked with your teen about sex, do so today.

Take advantage of a free HPV Risk Assessment test in January at any MRH Medical Clinic. HPV vaccines are also available, often at no cost via insurance. If you are without insurance, MRH will wave the fee for children ages 9 to 18 during the month of January. For more information, call 970-826-2400.