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These Are the Two Vaccines That Could Save Gay Men's Lives

These Are the Two Vaccines That Could Save Gay Men's Lives

Vaccinating A Man

As we've been taught, and often forgotten, knowledge is power and ignorance can be death.

With the advent of Pre-Exposure Prophylactics (PrEP) like Truvada, some gay man have found no reason to lose sleep over sexually transmitted diseases. This indifference comes in spite of the fact that STD rates on both sides of the Atlantic have skyrocketed in recent years, and even rates of HIV transmission continue to increase among youth of color.

HPV is the family drama of STDs: no one really wants it, but everyone has it. According to the CDC, if you're sexually active, you will contract HPV in your lifetime -- currently, some 79 million Americans are living with one strain or another. But rest assured: most of the 150 strains of this virus cause no symptoms, and go away on their own.

Things get more serious when we talk about HPV 16 and 18, the strains the cause the majority of HPV-attributable cancers. When one of these strains is left untreated, it can cause genital warts and cancers of the cervix, anus, or penis, any of which can be fatal.

I know what you're thinking, Yuck! Luckily for sexually active people, there are effective vaccines against the virus, such as 4vHPV and the more recent 9vHPV. Taken as three doses over a nine-month period, these vaccines can prevent up to 90 percent of cancer-causing strains of HPV in men and women alike. If you are between the ages of 21 to 26, CDC recommends you get the vaccine, especially if you have sex with men. CDC recommends that the vaccine be used in tandem with safe sex practices, including condom use.

One of the newest threats for gay men living in urban centers is spinal meningitis. Since 2014, gay men have been affected at 60 times the incidence rate of the general population. For example, of the 17 confirmed cases of invasive meningococcal disease reported in Los Angeles County this year, almost half have been gay men. And the number is rising -- in 2016 so far, the number of individuals affected has outstripped the number in all of 2015. Although no one has died yet, similar outbreaks in the past have accounted for the deaths of a handful of young gay men in Los Angeles and Chicago, many of whom were in their 20s.

Caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides, this disease targets the lining of the brain and spinal cord, and can be transmitted through close personal contact, including via saliva. High-risk groups include men with multiple sexual partners, as well as immunocompromised people, including those living with HIV. Robert Bolan, medical director for the L.A. LGBT Center, urges those at risk to think proactively: "We think the message should be simple: If you are a gay or bisexual man or a transgender woman, you should receive the meningococcal vaccine."

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Drew Kiser