I was married when I found out I had Human Papillomavirus (HPV). I had no idea what it was, or how I contracted it. What I did know was that it was scary. It required a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) to remove the advanced-stage, precancerous cells. Years later, it re-appeared. Again, a LEEP, and again it was scary. Now, each year I anxiously await the results of my annual PAP and when they come back normal, I feel a tremendous relief.  I suspect this will always be the case.

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. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The good news is that there is a vaccination for HPV and given to adolescents beginning at age 11-12, it can prevent cancers caused by the virus. The vaccination is not just for girls, it is important for boys as well. When it came time to vaccinate my son I had to consider what, if anything, I needed to explain. I opted to tell him he needed two more vaccinations and simply had them done. It may not have been the best way, but I did not want the conversation to be focused on sexual activity or sexually transmitted diseases. The reality is, the vaccine prevents certain cancers and that is the only reason it is needed.

Let’s be clear, studies show that vaccinating for HPV does not encourage teens to become sexually active. That is a conversation for a different time, but if getting the vaccination leads into the subject, you may decide to start talking about it.

Another important vaccination for teens is the MCV4, which protects against meningococcal disease, the leading cause of bacterial meningitis, which is an infection around the brain and spinal cord in children. Almost one of every ten people who get the disease will die from it. While the disease is rare, contracting it is actually quite easy; coughing, kissing or sharing water bottles can all spread the bacteria. The scary thing about meningitis is the symptoms mimic the flu, neck ache, or a headache caused by dehydration, so most people would not even consider the fact that it may be meningitis. The disease progresses rapidly which makes it more difficult to treat. In less than 24 hours from the time symptoms start, you could be in the hospital. Meningococcal bacteria also causes blood infections. Survivors of meningococcal disease may lose their arms or legs, become deaf, have problems with their nervous systems, become developmentally disabled, or suffer seizures or strokes.

It is not realistic to think that every time someone gets sick, it is meningitis, therefore the best option is vaccination. Unfortunately, the vaccination rates in Montana are low perhaps because this is not a required vaccination. In 2015, only 65.8% of 13-17 year olds had one dose of meningococcal vaccine (https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/coverage/teenvaxview/data-reports/menacwy/reports/2015.html). Compare this percentage to that of Rhode Island, where 97.7% of teens have been vaccinated. Learn more about meningitis here.

Everyone should have access to vaccinations. If you need assistance, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program helps families of eligible children get vaccinated. The program provides vaccines at no cost to children 18 year old and younger who are uninsured, under-insured , Medicaid-eligible, or American Indian/Alaska Native. To learn more, go to VFC program(https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/programs/vfc/parents/qa-detailed.html).