The human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes infections in the reproductive tract and can also lead to cancer, affects boys and girls alike. Doctors bust the myth around HPV vaccination, explaining the need for young boys to get jabbed as well.
“Just like girls, the HPV vaccine is required for boys as well before their first sexual intercourse. However, the general notion among parents is that only girls need vaccination,” says Dr Somashekhar S P, chairman, medical advisory board, Aster DM Healthcare, Bengaluru. The doctor recalls, “Since 2006, when the WHO approved the HPV vaccine, countries like Australia and Netherlands first began immunising girls above nine years of age. However, boys aged nine years or above were vaccinated only after 2010.”
“Though India followed the global guidelines and started HPV immunisation for boys after 2010, many of them aren’t vaccinated yet. Awareness and readiness amongst parents also seem missing. But if HPV infections are to be controlled completely, it is important for boys to get vaccinated as well,” says Dr Mukul Roy, radiation oncologist at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai.
HPV infections: Who’s at risk?
Dr Somashekhar explains, “Everyone who engages in sexual intercourse is at risk of developing HPV infections.”
HPV, which can infect the skin or mucosal cells, most often targets the reproductive tract in men and women. “If the infection persists for longer duration, it can cause precancerous lesions, leading to cancer,” warns Dr Roy.
“The worrisome feature is that HPV is sexually transmitted. This marks the need for immunising boys along with girls to prevent the spread of the complications caused by HPV,” says Dr Kenneth Alexander, chief, division of infectious diseases, Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida, USA, who spoke recently in an e-conference about HPV vaccination and prevention, addressing Indian doctors.
Swathi Prabhu (44), an IT professional from Lynchburg, Virginia, tells Happiest Health, “When our paediatrician recommended HPV vaccine for my son Rohan, as parents, my husband and I thought prevention is better than cure. Rohan is 13 years old now and he has received two doses of the HPV vaccine.”
Infections caused by HPV
HPV infection in boys can lead to genital warts, precancerous lesions, oropharyngeal cancers (cancer occurring around the throat and back of the tongue), penile cancers and anal cancers, says Dr Roy. She adds, “Homosexual or bisexual men have an increased risk of anal cancer or anal HPV infection.”
Why preteen boys need HPV immunisation?
The 2021 report by the AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY urged preteen boys to get the HPV vaccine. The study analysed incidences of HPV-related cancers in boys and girls from 2001-2017. While incidences of cervical cancer decreased by one percent every year, that of oropharyngeal, anal and rectal cancer increased.
Getting vaccinated is a must
Experts recommend that any boy or girl above nine years of age must get the HPV vaccination. Dr Mukesh Gupta, obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Gupta’s Nursing Home, Malad, Mumbai, says, “U.S. health officials have expanded the recommended age range for people receiving the HPV vaccine upto mid-40s.”
Early immunisation helps prevent future infections and complications. Dr Alexander points out, “Immunity from HPV virus is optimum when boys and girls are not sexually active. Getting vaccinated at a younger age helps in developing the immunologic response through long-lived plasma cells (LLPC) and memory B-cells, which play a crucial role in building antibodies in the body.”
In addition, Dr Somashekhar explains, “B-Cells, a type of white blood cells that generate antibodies, are higher in number in case of children. This decreases with age. When preteens receive HPV vaccination, the antibodies produced are enough to protect them from several types of cancers for almost their whole life.”
“Decreasing immunity with age is the reason older adults (after 15 years) are recommended three doses and younger adults (between 9-15 years) are recommended two doses,” justifies Dr Somashekhar.
Types of HPV vaccine
“There are two main types of HPV vaccine available in India. The bivalent vaccine provides protection against two subtypes of HPV. Quadrivalent vaccine does the same for four subtypes,” explains Dr Roy.
Happiest Health spoke to Dr Alexander who explained, “HPV vaccine does not require pre-vaccination test.” He added that anyone suffering from allergic tendency must check with their physician before taking HPV vaccination.
Side effects of HPV vaccine
HPV vaccine is safe and does not cause severe complications, say experts. Dr Gupta explains, “The side effects from HPV vaccine are mild which include pain, redness, swelling in the arm, fever, dizziness, fainting and headache.” These side-effects are temporary and not harmful, experts add.
Preventive measures for the unvaccinated
Dr Somashekhar points out, “It has just been a decade since HPV vaccine is being used in India. So, a large number of men who are not vaccinated are at still risk for HPV infections. Those who haven’t taken the vaccine must adopt safe sex practices.”
Dr Roy advises avoiding multiple sexual partners to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Also, regular screening for precancerous lesions can help in early detection of cancerous cells, says Dr Somashekhar.
Dr Gupta advises, “Parents must be made aware that immunisation against HPV for boys is a necessity. This protects them from various types of cancers and prevents them from spreading the infection.”
- HPV infections, which can lead to cancer, affect boys and girls alike.
- HPV infections are sexually transmitted.
- Boys or girls above nine years of age must get vaccinated against HPV.
- Getting vaccinated can protect boys from genital warts and several forms of cancer.