Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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HPV shots for boys

Here’s something I didn’t know: There’s an HPV vaccine for boys as well as girls.

The HPV vaccine fends off the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease responsible for many cases of cervical cancer in women.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups recommend that girls get the vaccine around age 11 or 12. And the Virginia Department of Health requires girls to get it before entering sixth grade, unless their parents sign a waiver opting them out.

A story in Healthy Living on Sunday included HPV in a list of vaccines the state health department requires for public school students. But it didn’t mention that boys can get the shot—in fact, it said the vaccine was only for girls. That’s because I didn’t know—until Dr. Roxanne Allegretti called and educated me—that the vaccine could be given to boys.

For boys, the shot (actually a three-dose series of shots) is not included in the state health department’s vaccine requirements. And the male version is listed only as a footnote in the vaccine schedule put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics—for now. Instead of recommending the shot, as it does for girls, the AAP currently says the vaccine “may be administered” to boys starting at age 9.

But the  Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for boys late last year (the shot for girls got approved in 2006). And Allegretti, a Fredericksburg pediatrician, said many boys have gotten the vaccine already in her Fredericksburg office.

Allegretti said she expects the AAP to shift HPV shots for boys into the “recommended” category when it revises its vaccine list in 2011.

Immunizing males against the virus can prevent them from catching it and spreading it to their sexual partners. The vaccine also can protect boys and men from penile and anal cancers that can stem from the virus, Allegretti said. And, the vaccine can keep both genders from developing genital warts—the signature symptom of HPV.

There are actually two different HPV vaccines. One, called Cervarix, is available only for girls and women. The other, Gardasil, is now available for both genders.

You can learn more by speaking with your physician. Or, read more about HPV shots by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: