By Sean McShee
December 22, 2010, the FDA approved the use of the vaccine, Gardasil, to prevent infection with the four types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that cause 90% of all anal cancer cases. Most of us have greater familiarity with the labels for HPV’s most immediate result – penile and anal warts. Already approved for females to prevent cervical cancer, Gardasil vaccination now is available for males between 9 and 26 years old. Approval only extends to age 26, because HPV has infected most gay/bi and other MSM by our mid 20s. This vaccine can only protect against those HPV strains that cause both anal cancer and genital warts. At present, it is not clear if doctors can prescribe the vaccine for males over 26, or if health insurance companies will cover payment. If you are over 26 and have an interest in this vaccination, talk to your health care provider or your local STD clinic.
While not common, anal cancer has begun to emerge as a serious health problem among people infected with HIV. In a recent study by Kaiser Permanente, anal cancer rates were found to be 87 times higher among HIV positives than HIV negatives, with even higher rates among those with lower CD4 counts.
The FDA approval of a vaccine to reduce the health risks of bottoming marks a major step in the political struggle to improve public health through the integration of sexual minority health. In the last 40 years, health advocates and activists have removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses, transformed HIV infection from an always fatal disease to a somewhat manageable disease, and developed three vaccines against STDs (Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and, now, HPV). At the same time, political/social advocates and activists have transformed homophobia from a nearly universal prejudice to a contested practice, largely restricted to religious fanatics. We sometimes don’t give ourselves credit for the progress that we have made. Instead, some of us lecture paternally while others withdraw sullenly.
Most guys tend to hear
STD prevention messages as variants on “Thou shallt nots” of one kind or another. Penile warts, however, provide an excellent example of the relationship between STDs, sexual disability, and sexual desirability. Nobody wants to suck on a dick covered in warts.