Human Papillomavirus or HPV is a group of over 200 types of viruses typically contracted by sexual contact which can lead to genital warts and even cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease which currently afflicts nearly 80 million U.S. residents. eighty percent of U.S. residents will contract HPV at some point in their lives, most without knowing it, given how long the disease takes to manifest or few or no display of symptoms.
HPV symptoms can take years to appear. Four thousand deaths occur every year in U.S. women from HPV cancer. Twelve thousand women are infected on an annual basis. Most of those cases of cancer occur in the cervix. HPV accounts for 3 percent of all U.S. cancer cases among women and 2 percent of cases among men.
The Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition (CCIC) was formed to help decrease the incidence of HPV and other vaccine-preventable diseases to increase health for Colorado’s children. They estimate low vaccination rates for Colorado children costs the state 35.4 million in medical related charges from hospital and emergency department expense.
According to Executive Director, Stephanie Wasserman on the CCIC web site, “We know that childhood vaccines are a safe, easy, and cost-effective way to help prevent disease and keep children healthy as they grow. Research shows that children who are vaccinated experience fewer doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths. In fact, vaccines averted 8,600 child hospitalizations in Colorado and saved $400 million in statewide hospital charges in just one year.” Wasserman laments the low rates of vaccinations in the state, “… many Colorado children do not receive the vaccines needed to keep them healthy. With the help of our partners – healthcare providers, parents, community organizations, public health departments, businesses and policymakers – we strive to identify and advance solutions to challenges facing Colorado families and communities and ensure that all children are protected from vaccine-preventable disease.”
HPV is the leading cause of most cervical cancer but is also accountable for cases of cancer in boys. In response, the Center for Disease Control issued formal recommendations in 2006, that girls receive the HPV vaccine, and in 2011 recommended that boys receive the vaccine. The HPV vaccine is more than “97 percent effective at preventing infection,” according to the CCIC.
In both genders, the vaccination should be received around the beginning of middle school at the age of 11 or 12, before most are sexually active. Typically two doses are administered before the age of 15 and three doses are given after the age of 15. Though the vaccination is typically administered to teens, it is recommended for men and women up to the age of 26.
As with most school and health policies, HPV vaccination policies differ by state. Nearly every state has some legislation to at least educate about the disease but only Rhode Island and Virginia require the vaccination for middle schoolers. Washington DC also has a vaccination requirement for middle school attendance.
In the 2007 legislative session, major advances in the recognition and treatment of HPV were made in the state of Colorado – four percent of tobacco settlement funds were allocated to HPV vaccinations, the treatment was added to the list of Medicaid benefits and cervical cancer education was included in sex education classes across the state.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports that the state lags behind their stated HPV vaccination goals. Reasons for some families not vaccinating their children include a lack of “access to healthcare,” and concerns about the “safety of vaccines.” While 64 percent of all 13 and 14 year-olds have started the HPV vaccine series as of 2017, only 46 percent had completed the vaccination regimen of at least 2 doses. Colorado’s goal dictates that 80 percent of the state’s teens should receive the vaccine.
Over 50 countries across the globe include education about HPV and HPV vaccination in their national health plans according to the World Health Organization. Most participating nations are in the Americas and Western Europe, though notably, Australia and Japan also include the vaccine in their countrywide health plans.
HPV Cancer Among Latinos
According to the Center for Disease Control, incidence of HPV-related cancer among Latinas is average compared to women of other ethnicities. African Americans also had an average ranking while American Indians and Asians had lower than typical rates. Latino males had much lower rates than average; only 60 percent of the average rate.
Cervical cancer was the most prominent type of cancer among Latinas, nearly all caused by the HPV virus. Notably, more Latino girls started the HPV vaccination process than white girls (56 percent compared to 46 percent), their completion rates of the vaccination regimen was nearly 20 percentage points lower than the rate of white girls.
An American Cancer Society journal article from 2012 cites challenges for health prevention among Latinos, “The majority of Hispanics also face barriers to health care access, including a lack of health insurance coverage, underrepresentation in health care ﬁelds, and cultural and language differences. For instance, Hispanics in the United States are the least likely to have health insurance of any racial or ethnic group, which in turn reduces the likelihood of accessing timely preventive medical services such as cancer-related immunizations and early detection examinations.”
Treatment and Policy of HPV
Detection of cancer related HPV is done through a Pap or Papanicolaou test. HPV is not a curable disease but usually disappears on its own. When treated, the incidence of cancer and disease symptoms like genital warts are very rare.
For more information about Colorado vaccination goals, treatment plans and to find more information about HPV, please visit www.HPVFreeCO.org&.
Denver Public Health Immunization Clinic provides vaccinations by appointment or for walk-in clients. Most insurance plans are accepted as is Medicaid and CHP+. No Denver child, (under the age of 18), is refused service based on inability to pay for vaccination. Through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, those unable to pay will still be treated. For more information, please consult www.denverpublichealth.org.