HPV vaccine promises controversy, cure

While the surgery was quick and "semi-painless," doctors told her it could cause complications during childbirth due to the shortening of the cervix if the same surgery is necessary more than once. In addition, the cells came back in Weinstock's case and she had to have the surgery again. After the second surgery, she opted to get the Gardasil shot.

"It couldn't cure the strain I already had, but it can keep me from getting another strain," she said. "I just wanted to make sure nothing else could develop."

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. Recent estimates, according to the New York State Department of Health, approximately 20 million Americans are infected with HPV. Six million new cases are diagnosed each year. Of those, 74 percent are found in 15- to 24-year-olds. Most of them never know they're infected.

Weinstock had no idea.

"HPV is more rampant than people realize," she said. "Some may not even know [they have] it. I didn't. I had no symptoms before the screening showed it."

Despite the lack of symptoms, HPV can be very dangerous. Thirteen strains of the virus have the potential to lead to cervical cancer, and 99.7 percent of cervical cancers are caused by an HPV infection. Two strains of the virus, Type 16 and Type 18, cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.

Those two strains, along with Types 6 and 11 (which cause 90 percent of all genital warts), are prevented by the Gardasil vaccine. The vaccine has been shown to be 100 percent effective, a statistic that has led researchers to estimate that, with widespread vaccination, cervical cancer deaths worldwide will drop by two-thirds.

In November of 2006, the federal government added Gardasil to its Vaccines for Children program, which offers free vaccinations to low-income and uninsured children. About 20 states have added the shot to the list of required vaccinations for schoolchildren.

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