Medical Monday: Breaking New from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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Now here is something we haven't seen in a long time. Four days ago on Thursday Congress practiced bipartisanship. With the news the abrupt cessation of insurance subsidy payments by the federal government, those all over the healthcare sector were scrambling. Lawmakers had to cooperate against Trump’s decision or risk chaos. Senators Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state have announced that they have a viable bill. This bill to reinstate subsidy payments has 12 sponsors divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats. These Congressmen are promoting a bill to resume federal subsidies to insurers that Trump has blocked. The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has confirmed that all 48 Senators would vote for the bill. They number 48 which, when combined with 12 sponsoring Senators who are already known to support the bill, would give 60 votes at least, enough to defeat a filibuster.

Good thing lawmakers have decided to try to cobble together a solution to this problem. It turns out that several powerful states have banded together to sue the Trump administration over the decision to end ACA subsidy payments. Lead by the attorneys general of both California and New York the states include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state. Additionally, the healthcare industry and the insurance industry have roundly condemned the interruption of subsidy payments, stating that this move will cost US economic and health harm.

 A group of medical associations, the so-called"Group of six”, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Osteopathic Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, has made a joint statement “ Our organizations strongly reject a marketplace that allows insurers to discriminate against any individual based on their health status age or gender allowing insurers to sell narrow, low cost health plans likely will cause significant economic harm to women and older sicker Americans who stand to face higher cost and fewer insurance options."

Concerns have already been raised that restoring subsidies paid from the federal government to insurance companies would benefit it insurers more than consumers. The authors of the bipartisan bill, Alexander and Laurie, and explicitly addressed concerns that"Restoring the payments to insurers could be viewed as… a bailout”. They indicated that the agreement would contain"The strongest possible language" to insure that the money provided for the subsidies would go to the benefit of consumers, not insurers. It is unclear at this time whether or not this bill, once enacted, would prevent some or all of the large rate hike that all of us can expect in our premiums this next year.

The fine details of women's reproductive health care are very much on the table in this political climate. As you are no doubt aware Trump has weakened the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Last week he created a loophole which will allow employers to stop providing birth control coverage in their corporate insurance plans if they have religious objections. This week the bill has been introduced to reverse this exception. The bill is called"Protect Access to Birth Control Act”. Unfortunately it does not yet have the bipartisan support that it needs. 

A Denver school teacher, Jessica Campbell, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration for it's modification of the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The suit names the President and his Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury.The suit states that the exceptions “jeopardize women's health and economic success in order to promote certain religious and moral views by attempting to nullify the right equal access to preventive medical care, particularly contraceptive care and services, protected by the US Constitution set forth by Congress in the Women's Health Amendment to the affordable care act.” The suit seeks to prohibit enforcement enforcement of the changes. 

The Omaha World Herald, has surveyed several large Nebraska and Iowa employers. They presented their informal findings in a recent article which explains that according to their survey, most Nebraska and Iowa employers will continue to offer insurance plans with contraceptive coverage.

IUDs (Intrauterine devices)are one of the best and one of the most expensive contraceptive methods. This is because they're extremely effective with very low failure and complication rates. It is also because they are able to be used by women who cannot tolerate hormones. Although the most popular IUDs contain hormones they contain only enough to treat the lining of the uterus and they do not produce systemic effects outside of the uterus. The their side effect rate is low. Some experts worry that because this method is particularly costly i.e. somewhere upwards of $1000, Women may lose effective access to it. 

Dr. Haywood Brown, President of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has written an opinion piece indicating that he is opposed to the Trump administration’s ”…regulation that will threaten contraceptive access for women everywhere, particularly in underserved rural communities”. He argued that access to contraception” amounts to more than just dollars and cents. It can be life saving for women who already faced serious medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure."

Access to all forms of reproductive health care have been compromised in various ways under the Trump administration. An important methodology utilized by the Trump administration has been the political appointment of many antiabortion and anti-contraception activists to government positions despite lack of qualifications. It is ironic and disturbing that the restrictions placed on contraception, a benign medical treatment, will lead to a certain increased rate of abortion.

On to the medical news. 

In the good news department, vaginal estrogen is safe for all postmenopausal women. This includes women who have had a hysterectomy, women who still have an intact uterus, women with history of cancer, those with cardiovascular disease, only those with thromboembolic history such as a deep vein thrombosis for a pulmonary embolism. The results of this study presented recently at the annual meeting of the North American Menopause Society also fall under the category of the we-already-knew-this department. This is because we have always known that estrogens given vaginally do not get into the systemic circulation, this research finding is worth reiterating because indicates that no post menopausal woman need suffer with a painful atrophic vagina.

Also in postmenopausal news, and in the we-already-new-this department, a new study confirms that oral estradiol and progesterone may improve menopause related quality of life. While this type of therapy reduces hot flashes and mood instability related to menopause, but it's use is constrained particularly in those who still have a uterus. This is because the administration of the combination of both estrogen and progesterone may only be given for about five years or the shortest amount of time at the lowest effective dose. After five years or so concerns begins to mount for increasing risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.

There is an increasing number of women in South Carolina who are giving birth without any prenatal care whatsoever. It has been long established that lack of prenatal care is a contributor to for birth outcomes.

Tanning addiction is real, and it increases risk of skin cancer. A new study published online any October 11 edition of Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, Young white women with a history of depression were found become prone to tanning addiction. Indeed, over 20% of young white women who have frequented at tanning salon do become addicted to tanning. The study noted that these young women "depend on tending to feel attractive often show symptoms of depression.”

Oral HPV and the disease that it produces are increasing. HPV stands for human papilloma virus and it is the virus responsible for general warts, cervical cancer and cancer of the mouth and throat. Girls and boys between the ages of 926 should be completely vaccinated against the virus. The vaccine remains underutilized and many do not realize it must be given to males as well as females. I'm going data on the vaccine continue to confirm its safety.

At the present 7% of women with breast cancer are younger than 40 years of age. It Is noteworthy that this percent has been increasing since the mid-1990s. With all the debate about mammogram testing frequency and age at first mammogram, I wonder how we can be expected to screen for these cases among young women. At present, the debate is between whether to start mammograms at age 40 or age 50. With increasing cases in women under 40 this provides a good argument for the breast self exam and also to tailor mammogram screening to risk factors.

In related news, the percentage of women who opt for breast reconstruction surgery right after mastectomy for cancer is increasing rapidly. Over the past five years the proportion of breast cancer patients opting for reconstruction grew by about two thirds. In 2009 only about a quarter of women opted for reconstruction whereas more recently in 2014 and 14 the number rose to 40%.

Obstetric history stays important long after your last baby is born. Preeclampsia may indicate a tendency towards high blood pressure later in life. Similarly, pregnancy associated or gestational diabetes can signal a risk for diabetes and even heart disease later in life. Recent study published online in JAMA internal medicine has shown that patients with a history of gestational diabetes can mitigate their risk for cardiovascular disease by healthy lifestyle. In particular, gestational diabetes was not significantly associated with cardiovascular disease risk elevation among women he maintained a healthy diet, were physically active, never smoked, and maintained normal weight. 

A rather fascinating new bit of research indicates that lack of sleep could raise a pregnant woman's risk for gestational diabetes. In particular, women he slept less than 6.25 hours and I were almost 3 times likely this study tells us nothing about which where the causes and which were the effects. Still it is an interesting relationship and one which deserves more scrutiny perhaps even outside of pregnancy.

The CDC(Centers for Disease Control) has released a new data indicating that obesity rates among US adults is steadily increasing with the current rate of about 40%. This is not near overweight where the body mass index is between 25 and 30. This is obesity, with body mass indices in excess of 30. Approximately 30% of people where obis in the year 2000 15+ years later that is increased by 10% to 40% of all people. Of course there's significant state-by-state variation but the numbers are formidable across the board. For every state where the percentage is lower than that there is a state whose percentage is higher. Obesity sits with mental health and addiction as the three topmost priorities the Department of Health Services.

These days, when a patient asks to have her tubes tied, we may suggest that she have her tubes altogether removed. This is because of the relatively new Revelation that many if not most of all ovarian cancers actually come from the tubes. Thus we can get some theoretical and hopefully real cancer reduction by removing the temps instead of merely tying them for cutting them. This interesting conclusion about the origins of "ovarian" cancer have come from the nascent field of molecular genomics.


Stay tuned next week for more news from the breaking world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology


I spent this week at Stanford MedX Conference. This conference covers some of my fondest professional interests. In particular, we covered various themes of technology in medicine, such as the use of devices and apps for patients to use to follow chronic disease conditions like diabetes. We covered the increasingly important role of apps in research. 

We explored the phenomenon of peer to peer connections among patients and discussed how it is especially helpful with rare or undiagnosed conditions. 

Another prominent theme at the conference was design in health care. We heard lectures and  participated in workshops in human centered design, or more particularly patient centered design. We used design thinking to create maps of the patient experience, then took that information forward to inform features as disparate as language used in phone notifications, seating in exam rooms, and interior decor. 

One theme of the conference was “everyone included”. I already knew this meant the voices of all genders. I also learned it meant all those in health care, not just patients and caregivers. Namely, it also included family members, medical researchers, device makers and all those who design and evaluate the health care experience. 

The genius of the conference in my mind was that it brought together those who were traditionally separate. In my two years of attending the conference it became readily apparent that fantastic synergies were possible by bringing together people from these varied  backgrounds. Patients, physicians, scientists, designers and computer scientists, sat around around common tables to learn methods to solve vexing problems in health care. And yes, we were given large sheets of paper, colored markers and sticky notes. 

But... the people ! This was the best part of all. I am here to report that there are plenty of good and brilliant people in the world with the ability to conceive of solutions to serious problems. At this conference, they came in all shape, sizes, ages, nationalities and genders. You could not pick them out at a grocery store. But if they had a conversation at your dinner table, you would quickly learn how special they were.  

On to policy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) continues to predict a 15 percent rise in premiums for policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). They have reported that this will likely be the case due to uncertainty over the Federal government’s willingness to pay subsidies to defray the cost of health care. Also likely contributing might be reduced  number of enrollees now that the individual mandate is not being enforced. 

GOP Senators have pared their efforts down to a one point bill. This final attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare basically takes Medicaid expansion money and shifts it to block grants administered by States. 

At the same time, Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed a near opposite. He has proposed retooling Medicare in the image of Obamacare and providing it to everyone. This is the so called “Medicare for all” proposal. While this has no likelihood of passing this Congress, it is espoused by most of the potential upcoming Democratic candidates for President. The rationale here is that such a plan would save money in the long run. The reasons for this being conceivable have been discussed before and elsewhere. In a nutshell, it has to do with people’s willingness to keep up on their prevention, screening, contraception and prenatal care, thus avoiding costlier more severe phenomena. 

The Senate Finance Committee has obtained an easy bipartisan agreement to refund CHIP, the children's health insurance program,

In another strikingly bipartisan move, Congress has rejected deep cuts to the National Institute of Health. Indeed lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have defied the Commander in Chief and increased spending on biomedical research. 

In medical news, HPV vaccination rates continue to be sub par. However new data shows that vaccinations that have been given may be conferring a herd immunity as HPV infections have decreased 32% between 2009 and 2014. 

Vaping is viewed as a safe alternative to smoking in pregnancy. There is NO data to support this. In fact, newer data show an association between maternal vaping and asthma in the offspring.

Marijuana is viewed as safe in pregnancy. However, it is associated with learning difficulties in grade school  offspring. The State of Nevada is beginning a program to educate about this. 

In concerning but unsurprising News, pregnant women’s exposure to pesticides appears to be associated with premature delivery and low birth weight. 

 A recent study shows a faint correlation between two flu shots in row and miscarriage. Ever hear of signal to noise ratio ? This is probably noise. ACOG continues to reiterate the real demonstrated need for flu vaccine in pregnancy. 

Belly fat; it’s always the last weight to come off. However, it is well worth the effort. We’ve known for some time that belly fat was associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease. However, new research indicates that central obesity is associated with increased rates of several cancers. Moreover, in the case of breast cancer, it is more closely associated with higher risk forms of hormone receptor negative cancer. 

As data science improves, so do our results. New research published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical  Association, constitutes the largest longest and best designed trials on the safety of postmenopausl a hormone replacement therapy. Happily, it does not increase the risk of premature death. This is medicine’s way of saying that the therapy is safe. 


Thanks for reading. Stay tuned next week for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obsterics and Gynecology

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As expected, the Trump administration is planning to roll back the contraceptive mandate. The contraceptive mandate requires that insurers cover costs for contraception without copay. The proposed change in regulation would allow employers to refuse to cover contraception because of religious or moral objections. This change will not go unchallenged, Numerous lawsuits will likely be initiated if this change takes place. 

Those objecting to the contraceptive mandate often cite their objection to certain birth control methods which prevent implantation. However, mainstream authorities focus on the fact that increased contraceptive availability is associated with plummeting incidence of abortion and unplanned pregnacy. 

In other policy news Texas plans to continue funding their task force to determine the causes of their alarming rate of maternal mortality. It is really a shame that Texan’s don’t just save their money and acknowledge the obvious: that increased maternal mortality is directly related to their gutting of health care services to women. At this time, one quarter of Texas women lack health insurance. Data from many quarters tells us that this is a sure fire way to ensure poverty and high maternal mortality for many generations to come. 

Arkansas is racing to the bottom as well. A Federal Appellate court in St. Louis has ruled that Arkansas can block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. 

Winning the race to the bottom, is of course the the Trump administration, who has resolved to cut Teen Pregnancy Prevention program funding. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) came out with a swift condemnation of this plan. The current administration supports abstinence only programs, and yet asserts they favor “ evidence based” programs. Sling that medical jargon. 

Lawmakers have prevailed upon the Trump administration to make the Federal Government insurance subsidy payment for August. In fact, it is Republican members of Congress together with Democrats who have convinced the administration to continue payments, fearing a collapse of insurance markets. They believe this will buy time for a bipartisan solution to stabilize the markets. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office ) continues to warn that ending subsidies with cause premiums to rise by 20% by 2018. 

In encouraging news, Oregon has passed law budgeting half a million dollars to expand comprehensive reproductive health care coverage for all its citizens. The law also requires insurers to cover such services with no out of pocket cost. Available evidence tells us that, as a direct result, they should expect decreased rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion, with increased levels of educational attainment among women, decreasing unemployment statewide, and increased standards of living. 



On to the medical news. 

It is time for us to start thinking about obesity in more sophisticated ways. Obesity is a devastating and widespread medical problem. It is also very personal and for that reason it is challenging to discuss and treat. We are now beginning to understand that the causes of obesity include but are not limited to individual habits. For example, poverty and its many causes factor in strongly. We can graph the incidence of obesity on maps and thus understand obesity is part of culture as culture spreads across geography. New research out of the National Institute of Health has revealed that the “ origins of obesity lie as much in early childhood - even prenatally and intergenerational- as it does in an individual’s current behavior. “ Obesity is closely tied to many forms of human suffering and disease, from heart disease and diabetes, hypertension and cancer, to poor self esteem and depression. Further research is necessary, by all means. However to effectively address this serious problem, both patients and physicians are going to have to do better at mustering their courage and talk about obesity in frank and accurate terms. 

You might have noticed my mention of obesity as having a role in increasing cancer risk. Maybe you were not aware of this, since there is not an obvious connection. However, we have always know that obesity is associated with many types of cancers. However, new research from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sheds more light on the subject. It turns out that “ women who eat a lot of high calorie foods may face a slightly higher risk of obesity related cancers - even if they remain thin” The study went on to elaborate that “ women who favored low nutrient high calorie foods had a 10% higher risk of cancer linked to obesity. “ Cancers related to obesity include cancer of breast, colon, ovary, kidney, and endometrium (uterine lining). 

A new study from the Canadian Medical Association has shown that oral cancers related to the HPV are on the rise. Between 2000 and 2012 it is believed that the incidence of such cancers has risen by 50 %. 

Smoking in pregnancy is still a big problem. It turns out that depression in pregnancy makes smoking more likely. This tendency of smoking during depression in pregnancy is on the rise, according to new research published online in the October issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 

HPV and smoking are a bad combination. Did you know smoking greatly accelerates the progress of HPV related disease ? 

HPV has an effective vaccine against it. However, new research indicates that less than half of girls and a quarter of boys are vaccinated. HPV ( Human papilloma virus ) has a vaccine. Humans papilloma virus causes genital warts, precancerous and cancerous lesions of the genitalia and mouth. Vaccines are available for young people from the ages of 9-26 years of age. They have little in the way of known side effects. 

In other virus news, there have been no locally transmitted cases of Zika viruses in Florida yet this year. The same encouraging trend has also been seen in Latin America and the Caribbean. Authorities now believe that those infected develop immunity to reinfection. However, authorities are also concerned that Zika may now be getting transmitted sexually. Work on a Zika vaccine is underway. 

Again, I encourage you all to contact your elected officials about your views on women’s health. Tell them the American people are willing to shoulder their collective responsibility for people's health care and the good of the future. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

First, the policy news. 

Trump has tied tax reform to health care reform. He has stated that there cannot be tax reform unless there is health care reform. Those that stalled the last proposal, the “ Freedom Caucus", an ultraconservative branch of the GOP, are reportedly in negotiations to prevent a stalemate as before. 

Negotiating with Democrats is another matter. Trump has once again threatened to withhold health care subsidies that fund the ACA (Affordable Care Act) to get Dems to the table. This would entirely destabilize the health care insurance markets. At the same time, the new administration moved to finalize rules to stabilize the ACA marketplaces as they now currently exist. These rules were drawn up by CMS, (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) who oversees these and other Federal Health care programs. The intent of these rules is to ease the what insurance companies say is an undue burden placed on them by the ACA. It will shift some of the cost of care back to the consumer, ostensibly making insurers more likely to stay in the market, i.e offer health insurance at all. For example, these rule would allow higher deductibles, larger out of pockets, and increased prices for insurance. It is hard to conceive of health insurance companies needing a “break “more than the common consumer. However, they need to stay solvent in order to make sure there are enough such companies in the market to make it competitive. 

Trump has signed a law withholding Federal Funds from clinics that provide abortion. This of course will also take down those providers from providing the general medicare care, birth control visits and cancer screenings that they would normally provide on a regular basis. 

In good policy news, a bill has been introduced in Connecticut which would make pregnancy a “qualifying event”, meaning it would enable pregnant women to enroll in the ACA anytime, instead of just during the specified enrollment periods. 

Aren’t you grateful when your medication can be purchased as a generic ? I am since it saves lots of money. Drug companies trying to recoup their losses try to keep generics out of the market as long as possible. Regulators such as the FDA ( Food and Drug Administration) intervene when the need for the drug is great or the company is believed to have recouped their expenses, or the cost of the drugs is simply too high. A bipartisan effort is underway to ensure timely access to generics. This could save the public billions of dollars. 

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is on the rise in the US. Those who have been vaccinated are not part of this rise. Surprise ! 

A new study indicates that many primary care doctors and Ob/Gyns are continuing to recommend mammograms after 40 rather than begin them after 50 as the USPSTF (US preventive Services Task Force)  recommends. That is because the USPSTF gauges effectiveness by death rates, rather than years of life. Death rates from cancer or non-cancer are low for women in both the  40s and 50s, and comparisons to not yield adequate numerical differences. Furthermore their metrics do not incorporate the value of early detection on the reduction of MORBIDITY (complications short of death)  or the enhancement of quality of life. The USPSTF is comprised of epidemiologists and not clinicians. ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends that screening mammograms begin at 40. 

According to the CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) Texas has the highest repeat teen pregnancy rate in the country. Numerous voices in the State are calling for a state based no-cost provision of birth control. Why does this not make sense to everyone ? 

On that front, it is not widely appreciate that long acting birth control such as IUDs can be places right after the baby is born. This is especially useful for patients who might not show up to their postpartum appointments. 

In perhaps the most most important opinion piece of the week, the Catholic Democrats President Steven Krueger has described a problem in the Democratic party. He has noted Democrats seem reluctant to talk about ways to reduce abortion since it may imply they do not believe access to it is a fundamental right. He believes Democrats should come to the table with proposals to reduce abortion, thereby gaining ground on issues like birth control and provision of health care in general. 

Stay tuned for more breaking news from the fascinating world of Obstetrics and Gynecology next week, here on Medical Monday. 


Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

This Monday the world has become a different place. A new Administration has taken office in the United States. But more importantly, women across the country and across the world have become galvanized. Many marches of hundreds of thousands each took place on Saturday. These were largely demonstrations by and for women to make a statement against sexism, misogyny and against the loss of health benefits in the US. I’m not sure the world has ever seen political activism for one goal on such a large scale. 

Democratic lawmakers made a last ditch appeal on Friday, urging that the GOP halt the repeal. They cited the many clauses of the ACA which prohibit practices which are discriminatory to women, such as denying coverage of contraception and coverage for women-only health screenings such as mammograms. They cautioned that this, along with defunding Planned Parenthood, would harm women in every state. 

It is becoming clearer and clearer that many Republican governors do not favor a wholesale repeal of the ACA. They know that repeal would cause chaos in health care, as well as increasing costs for their state programs. 

In the shocking numbers department, it has been determined that HALF of all men have genital infections caused by HPV. One in four of those have viral strains which can cause cervical cancer. 

Meanwhile, New York State is reporting a 50% decline in cervical cancer deaths since 1976. This is attributed to women obtaining regular paps to detect precancerous conditions and the introduction of the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine Gardisil. 

It is interesting to note that abortions are at a new low since the institution of Roe versus Wade case law in 1973. Researchers attribute this new low to the increased availability of affordable and longer lasting contraceptives. 

If the ACA is repealed, both these important gains might likely be lost since the ACA has covered contraception and health screening for women. 

As if to add insult to injury, repeal of the ACA would also strip breastfeeding protections from the workplace. These protections are in place through the ACA. 

The ACA deals with more than women’s health issues. The ACA contained provisions to authorize a fund to combat the costliest of our chronic diseases: diabetes and heart disease. Repeal of the ACA could eliminate this fund, which is for state public health programs.

Americans may be divided, but 40% across both sides of the aisle agree that health care should be a top priority for the new administration. Meanwhile, the popularity of the ACA is steadily climbing in the polls. Forty eight percent of Americans strongly approve of the ACA. Of those 22% of respondents who want it repealed, half want to do so only when a replacement is in place. The Congressional Budget Office itself has calculated that if the ACA is repealed, 18 million people will lose their insurance in the first year. Over a decade, 32 million would lose insurance. They also estimate that individual premiums would double. 

In Zika news, officials have been debriefing from the season. They feel the greatest failure has been of prevention in the areas most affected by Zika. They have emphasized that the toll taken has scarcely been counted. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)  is still a scourge. Over a hundred thousand babies are born yearly with this condition. Britain has one of the highest rates of FAS in the world, with 40% of British pregnant women drinking during pregnancy. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has continued to take issue with the FDA on their overly conservative and out of context warnings on anesthetics in pregnancy. Their concern is that caregivers and patients will be reluctant to have critical procedures such as appendectomies and gall bladder removals in pregnancy should they become necessary. Surgical illnesses such are these are very much threats to both mother and babies in pregnancy and should be dealt with in the standard fashion. To put theoretical concerns from animal studies ahead of clear and present dangers is missing the forest for the trees. 

Contact your elected officials with your concerns. It is not enough to march. 

Stay tuned next week for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Medical Monday: breaking news from the world of obstetrics and gynecology

Here is some good news on the Zika front. It is been over 45 days without anyone in South Beach Miami contracting Zika virus in from a local mosquito. For this reason Governor Rick Scott has lifted the Zika zone warning in South Beach. Miami's Little River area was cleared earlier this week. Officials are still warning pregnant women to avoid the entire area and to protect against mosquito bites.

Five babies in New York City have been born with Congenital Zika Virus Syndrome. Interestingly, eight other infants have tested positive for Zika virus in New York City but have not shown evidence of the syndrome.

Zika remains a threatening and somewhat mysterious disease. A woman in Columbia has been the subject of study because her Zika virus infection lasted so long. Normally the disease is mild and runs it's course over a few days time. However the pregnant patient in question tested positive for Zika for 107 days after the onset of symptoms. Because of this, researchers speculate that the baby may serve as a reservoir for the virus. When this baby was ultimately born at 37 weeks gestation, it did indeed show microcephaly, indicating that it had been infected by Zika as well. However, interestingly, the baby tested negative for Zika in serum, urine and cerebrospinal fluid. Even though the Zika virus had done it's damage as evidenced by the babies microcephaly, the baby had already developed Zika antibodies prior to birth.

Three experimental Zika vaccines are under development. One of them has finished the first round of human testing then will move to phase 2 trials in the first quarter of 2017. Four or five more Zika vaccines are expected to begin development next year.

Perhaps the most important comments about Zika came from a Dr. Antonio Crespo the Chief Quality Officer at Phillips Hospital at Orlando Health. Writing in the contributors blog for The Hill, Dr. Crespo indicates the northward migration of Zika virus is probably the first of many such diseases. He cautions that the nation's response to Zika and the outcomes that we will see should be studied in preparation for future such threats. 

In other news, youngsters are not the only ones skipping their vaccines. Older people are more vulnerable to influenza, pneumonia and shingles. Vaccines are available for all of these things. 

Young people between the ages of nine and 26 should be vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV). However, vaccination rates in this case fall short of ideal. A new study indicates a counterintuitive result. It turns out that short conversations between Dr. and parents or Dr. and patient are more likely to result in vaccine utilization than are long conversations. Researchers have interpreted this finding by speculating that long conversations raise more doubt than short ones. I would speculate, by contrast, that when a patient shows reluctance or asks questions, the conversation goes longer. Such patients who are disinclined to vaccinate to begin with are less likely to vaccinate even after the conversation takes place. I think the conversations between caregivers and patients need to be as long as they need to be and they certainly very greatly between patients and circumstances. I'm going to file this in the chickens and eggs category.

Also in the chicken and eggs category is the following study. It turns out that researchers have identified a link between pubic hair grooming and sexually transmitted infection (STI) risk. There is a direct relationship between pubic hair grooming and sexually transmitted infection risk. In fact, there is nearly 4 times the likelihood of having an STI among those who are groomed as infrequently as weekly. I ask myself, is this because grooming inherently makes the tissues more vulnerable? Honestly I doubt this. Do those who groom have more partners? Do those who have more partners groom more ? Which comes first?

Officials from the incoming Republican administration have reiterated their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However reporting on more detailed discussions among leader elect reveals a realistic understanding that this change might take two or three years. They even have a name for their strategy: "repeal and delay".

Meanwhile the American Hospital Association has warned the new administration that "repealing the affordable care act could cost hospitals $165 billion by the middle of the next decade" And "trigger an unprecedented public health crisis". 

Similarly the Urban Institute has reported that 30 million people stand to lose coverage if the Affordable Care Act is repealed without putting anything in place to replace it.

Many women are aware of the likelihood of some form of curtailment of the ACA, particularly of reproductive health care coverage. A Kaiser study indicates that many women are flocking in to obtain contraceptives, including longer acting methods to see them through a longer period of time.

In the good news department, the Senate has passed a landslide vote ratifying the 21st Century Cures Act. This is a $6.3 billion measure to "increased federal support for medical research, mental health care, and controlling the opioid epidemic". The bill had strong bipartisan support and cleared by a vote of 94 to 5.

We will finish with a fantastic study on the relationship between optimism and health.The Nurses Heath Study is a very long running and large study of 70,000 women between 2004 to 2012. It is been mined for all kinds of research. In this most recent study released out of Harvard Public Health, those with the most optimism had 40% lower risk of heart disease and stroke compared to those with the least optimism. Optimism was linked with lower inflammation and healthier biomarker levels including lipid levels. Researchers concluded that the correlation between optimism and longevity was the result of optimistic people having healthier lifestyles such as diet, sleep patterns, and other factors.


Stay tuned for more breaking news from the exciting world of Obstetrics and Gynecology next week on Medical Monday. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

It turns out that Dr. Peter Hotez, the Dean of that National School for Tropical Medicine has been thinking about the interplay between Hurricane Matthew and the Aedes mosquito which spreads Zika. His informed speculations were that the Hurricane could provide an initial respite from the mosquitos, being essentially blown away by the tremendous winds. However, the enormous amount of standing water afterwards would provide ideal breeding ground for the virus carrying mosquitos. 

Though the Federal government has passed a limited Zika funding measure, the bulk of the costs have fallen on States. The 1.1 billion dollars recently approved requires the development of a spending plan which the Department of Health and Human Services are required to complete by the end of the month. One hundred and fifty two million will go toward vaccine development. The rest will go to local labs to speed up testing, as well as for prevention efforts like mosquito control, and education campaigns. 

Much of the press about Zika focuses rightly on its effects on pregnant women, namely microcephaly and other severe effects on the fetal and neonatal brain and nervous system. However, Zika virus effects non- pregnant women and men by increasing their chances of Guillain Barre Syndrome, post viral paralysis. In the recent new wave of such patients, 97% of these patients had symptoms of Zika 4 weeks prior, further cinching the relationship of the virus to the syndrome even further. 

At least 808 pregnant American women have Zika. It is likely that there are many more since the infection can be asymptomatic, and testing results are much delayed. Physicians and Institutions are trying to ready themselves for the increase in special needs children which will come as a result of the Zika epidemic. 

New Zika recommendations indicate that both men and women wait six months to get pregnant after Zika exposure. 

In other virus related news, studies have shown that parents are more likely to ask for HPV ( Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine to be given to their children if their child’s caregiver discusses it with them in a certain way. In particular, if caregivers highlight the parent’s role in preventing HPV infection, parents are more likely to agree to the administration of the vaccine. HPV vaccine is grossly underutilized. Researchers and physicians are trying to increase HPV vaccine utilization rates by funding the vaccine with others and by giving it in school based programs. HPV is a virus which causes serious and sometimes fatal disease processes ( cervical cancer)  for which there is an effective vaccine. Yet many will not utilize it. Once we are fortunate enough to have a Zika vaccine, I wonder if some will decline that too. 

Speaking of inadequate utilization of vaccine, over half of millennials do NOT plan to get the flu vaccine this year. Half of these people do not believe it is effective and 29% think it will give them the flu. The data do not bear out these concerns. 

Here is some bad news that is, at the same time, interesting and useful. First, people in most modern countries gain weight during the holidays. The amount and time frame varies by country. In the US, our weight is at its lowest in October, right after summer, and increases in the ten days preceding the holidays. It appears that holiday related weight gain, regardless of country, takes about FIVE months to lose. That’s right people, gain it in ten days, lose it over five months. 

In other bad but fascinating and hopefully helpful news, stress contributes to aging in a very particular and profound way. A large human DNA study has demonstrated that “ adverse events in childhood ...hasten …telomere tear down." I once read telomeres are the protective shoelace tips to our DNA shoelaces. Telomeres keep DNA from fraying as it were, and this prevents premature aging. They were able to determine that each significant stressful event in a person’s life increases the risk of shorter telomeres by 11 percent. DNA codes for what we are… in a very immediate tissue sense of the word. Damaged DNA leads to all kinds of diseases including cancer, and basically the failure to heal and renew properly. We have to start taking the prevention of childhood stress much more seriously. 

State Medicaid expansions are most costly than previously anticipated. This is because more qualifying patients have signed up, and they are sicker than had been anticipated. This should be cause for increasing the funding to the expansions, says this fiscal conservative. Why ? It is because preventive care and treatment that is earlier rather than later ALWAYS is cheaper in the long run. Never mind that it is more humane and the ethical thing to do. 

Stay tuned for more fascinating news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, on Medical Mondays.

Medical Monday: Breaking News From the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

By a margin of 89 to 7, the Republican dominated Senate voted to move forward and develop a bill to avert a government shutdown and fund the Zika crisis. So, yes, they approved a bill to approve a bill. 


Meanwhile the public ought to be aware that money has been taken from other important sources to fight Zika. The Federal Government has taken money away from funds to fight malaria, tuberculosis, ebola, and more recently, and tragically, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental health. Some of this money will be going to continue the development of a zika vaccine. 


The CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) has spent another 2.5 million for Zika lab testing. Getting definitive Zika test results can take 4-6 weeks in the current system. 


The news has prominently publicized the well delineated areas in Miami where the Zika virus is active. However many experts believe Zika is active all around the Gulf Coast. Experts including some within the CDC believe other Gulf cities are experiencing Zika outbreaks without realizing it since the testing is taking so long. 


As of several days ago, Puerto Rico has  20,000 documented cases of Zika, including close to 2000 pregnant women. 


In the not surprising department, those with no out of pocket expense for birth control have fewer unplanned pregnancies. 


Also in the interesting but not surprising department, stress may erase the effects of a healthful diet. It also decreases one’s chances of getting pregnant, especially if it occurs near the time of ovulation. 


About 1 in 5 or 20% of all women will suffer from depression and one point or another in their lifetime. That percent is higher in the 40s and 50s. 


Last week I reported on the appalling maternal mortality rates in Texas. The Institute of Heath Metrics and Evaluation has released data indicating that the United States as a whole has suffered the same trend. We are now considered an outlier among rich nations in this regard. Some of this is attributed to obstetric ( pregnancy) complications arising out of increased background rates of obesity and diabetes, whose rates have skyrocketed in this country. 


In the probably good news department, mammograms received by Medicare beneficiaries increased in the first three years after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. It is a bit too early to tell if this will result in a reduction in morbidity or mortality from breast cancer, but I am betting that it will have. 


In the definitely good news department, it has now been established that the incidence HPV related anogenital warts is on the decline due to the HPV vaccine. This is true despite the woefully low utilization of this safe and effective vaccine. The HPV vaccine is meant for young people, both boys and girls from ages 9 to 26. 


In the phenomenal and amazingly good news department, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife, Pediatrician Dr. Priscilla Chan, have pledged 3 Billion dollars over the next years to essentially cure or manage all disease by the end of the century. If I had not just attended Stanford Medx this last week and been heartened by all the new technologies and methodologies that people all over the world are bringing to bear for these goals, I would have thought their goal unrealistic. But now I believe it is simply a matter of time.. and money. 


Stay tuned next week for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 


Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

The news this week is dominated by virus science.

The first United States baby with Zika related microcephaly has been born in New York City. While this is not surprising, the fact that many women are ignoring Zika related travel warnings is. This summer, over 2000 pregnant women traveled to Zika affected areas and have com back requesting testing. In many cases, they are traveling to the Dominican Republic. AS f the present, cases from the Dominican Republic account for more than a fifth of all US cases. The CDC(Centers fro Disesase Control) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are grappling with how to develop protocols to care for infants who will be born with microcephaly. These infants have serious mental and physical disabilities since the higher portions of the brain are underdeveloped. 

Florida is one of the most vulnerable states in the Union to the Zika virus. Authorities estimates over a quarter of a million women are at risk in Florida. Various research indicates that a Medicaid expansion there would help reduce the risk of pregnancy women to Zika. There is also a push to require employers to take measures to limit their pregnant employees exposure to mosquitos. 

As of mid July the CDC is tracking around 1300 cases of pregnant women with Zika. Fourteen were sexually transmitted, and the rest acquired through travel. 

There is also a Utah case on record this week of a man who acquired Zika through close family contact. He was taking care of an elderly man who had acquired Zika due to travel. 

Hepatitis C is on the rise, both in women of reproductive age, and not surprisingly, in their children under 2. There is no vaccine yet for Hepatitis C, but very recently, a very good treatment has been released. 

In other viral news, work has been done showing that certain vaginal flora (Prevotella BIVIA) make it easier to transmit HIV. However, a silicone ring imbued with antiviral drug may help reduce the risk of transmission. Pregnant women with HIV have now been shown to do better if their therapy is continued postpartum. 

Finally, in some other good news pertaining to viruses, the American Cancer Society has endorse the vaccination of all preteens, boys and girls against HPV (Human papilloma virus.). 

Say tuned for more riveting news from the word of Ob/Gyn next week on Medical Monday. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology 

Women in Latin American are more likely to get Zika than men. We presume they are exposed equally to Zika carrying mosquitos. This difference appears once girls become sexually active. How do you put it together ? Here is what doctors and researchers think. They believe sex may spread Zika more than was previously believed. Furthermore, getting Zika though sex is easier for a woman than for a man. Other sexually transmitted infections follow this pattern and in their case, it is because sex in women causes undetected micro abrasions which allow greater access to the bloodstream. 

President Obama has come out and said that Congress should not recess for summer until Zika funding is secured. With this funding, a vaccine will be produced sooner. Some speculate that the issue of Zika calls to mind issues of contraception and abortion, and that is why Congress is unable to deal effectively with it. Zika is bringing reproductive rights into focus. ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) representatives have noted that the southern states likely to have the most Zika are the same ones which have high unintended pregnancy rates and poor access to family planning resources. But Texas is taking a different angle anyway. They are trying to scratch up enough funds on its own to provide mosquito repellant to it’s poor women, budgeting 2 bottles per month per women.  

In other news, US maternal mortality rates have doubled in the last 25 years. Black women fare the worst, with mortality rates quadruple that of white women. 

The president of ACOG has come out stating that we should have a much more critical attitude toward chemicals in the environment which may cause birth defects. Project TENDR has been created from a variety of expert disciplines to advocate for greater government oversight on the chemicals. TENDR stands for Targeting Environmental Neurodevelopmental Risks. 

Newborns get about two months of flu protections from a shot given to mom during pregnancy. 

Despite the demonstrates efficacy of the HPV vaccine, it is still woefully underutilized. Moreover, HPV related cancers are on the rise. Between 2008 and 2012, they have increased about  17 %. HPV cancers are not just cervical cancer in women. They also include head and neck cancers in both men and women. 

Finally, in the good news department, an eight study meta-analysis out of Europe has shown that obese infertile women who have trouble ovulating do better with lifestyle intervention than fertility drugs. Six months of interventions resulting in weight loss were four times more likely to conceive than their counterparts who used fertility drugs alone.  

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology 

As per recent precedent, we will be starting with Zika virus news.

NIAID ( National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease) chair Dr. Anthony Fauci has reported that Zika virus has yet another disease manifestation in non pregnant adults. Besides producing microcephaly in the unborn, and Guillaine Barre partial paralysis in a certain number of adults, it also produces significant neurological damage to what appears to be a small percentage of adults. More information will doubtless be forthcoming. 

Many have wondered why the virus, which was identified many years ago, had not caused problems on this scale, before. The answer is most likely lies in the fact that it has mutated since it was a harmless strain in Africa. It is interesting to note that this information comes to us through a collaboration between UCLA and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College. 

CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) had recommended that men with symptoms who have been in a Zika infected area abstain or use condoms for 1 least 6 months. Men without symptoms must take these precautions for 2 months. That said, it is also true that 4 out of 5 people with Zika do NOT show symptoms. Hmmmm….

It is becoming more appreciated that Zika related changes in the fetal brain may require sophisticated imaging like antenatal MRI to diagnose. In other words, a woman may not find out until late in pregnancy that her baby is affected. It is important to keep in mind the big picture that most pregnant women with Zika give birth to what now appear to be normal babies. However, there has not been enough time to determine what percent are born normal, or how long or intensively one needs to observe the child before the child is declared normal. 

In other, but ultimately related news,CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has warned officials in all 50 states that ending Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood may be out of compliance with federal law. Ten states, Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin have already cut off funding or have passed legislation to do so. CMS has sent letters to each state to “ ensure they have a clear understanding of their obligation to follow longstanding Medicaid law guaranteeing that beneficiaries have the right to receive covered services, including family planning services…” Failure to comply with result in another warning, then penalties ($). 

With weather experts predicating a hotter than average spring and summer, Zika carrying mosquitos are expected to expand their territory in the southern states. Legislators and activists in these states had better think hard about taking away family planning clinics which are principal access points for contraceptives. Ready access to contraceptives may become very important if Zika outbreaks develop in these southern states, which doubtless they will.  To put it very plainly, less access to contraception means more unplanned pregnancy, and in the setting of a Zika outbreak, more potential for Zika affected pregnancy, and thus more potential for seriously affected fetuses, and more demand for abortion. 

As many states are developing legislations to make abortion procedures more restrictive, other groups are promoting the use of abortion medication, which in many cases of early pregnancy, would make abortion procedures unnecessary. At the same time others are promoting “ Perinatal Hospice Care” as another way to avoid abortion, even of babies with fatal anomalies. These facilities would provide end of life care for babies born with conditions not compatible with long term survival. This would include babies with severe chromosome anomalies, severe brain defects, and other abnormalities like the congenital absence of kidneys. The appearance of these facilites coincides with the appearance of legislation in 6 states which requires physicians to counsel expectant parents with an unborn baby with a fatal condition about Perinatal Hospice as an alternative to abortion. In other words, they are advising the parents that they MAY continue to carry the pregnancy, give birth and then place their child in a hospice until it dies. I speculate that facilites of this type are bound to arise in South America where abortion is neither widely accepted nor available, and where there will soon be thousands of severely brain damaged babies due to the Zika virus. 

Now for more virus related news. Polio vaccine has been revised. There have only been 12 cases worldwide, and this latest step should eradicate it once and for all. It is important to note that the world once feared polio as we now fear Zika. 

Gardisil,  the quadrivalent vaccine against HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) has been extremely helpful to curtail HPV disease. It reduces the onset of cervical cancer by 63% and death by 43 %. However, Gardisil 9, which covers 9 HPV subtypes rather than 4, would decrease the same by 73% and 49%, respectively. This vaccine upgrade is estimated to be worth $27 billion in health care savings over the next 35 years, not to speak of the reduction in human suffering. 

Finally, in the awesome news department, women who work out while pregnant seem to confer significant lasting benefits to the cardiovascular and brain function of their unborn children. ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) continues to recommend that women with uncomplicated pregnancies do MODERATE exercise before, during and after pregnancy to benefit themselves and their children. 

Stay tuned for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, on Medical Monday. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News form the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Good Monday ! We will start our news this morning with a revelation that a once deadly virus is now under firm control via the three pronged approach of surveillance, treatment and vaccination ! I speak, of course of the Human Papilloma Virus,(HPV), responsible for causing cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer.

A new CDC study published in The Journal of pediatrics reports states that" thanks to a vaccination program that began decade ago fewer US women are entering adulthood infected with” HPV. Apparently this study is the first to show falling levels of dangerous strains of the virus in women in their 20s. Human papilloma virus vaccine also known as Gardisil, has been available for use for children ages 9 through 26 for many years now. It was initially only available for girls because the studies were done first on girls but subsequently it was released also to boys. 

Zika is our newest viral threat. It has ravaged South and Central America and proceeds northward into areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquito can live. Zika is blood borne and spread by this mosquito. Male to female sexual transmission of ZIka is now also confirmed. It is also vertically transmitted, meaning from mother to unborn child, and is strongly linked to the development of microcephaly in the the growing fetus, which produces severe brain damage. Conclusive proof of the connection is likely to come in June when a large cohort of nearly 5000 women mostly in Columbia will give birth.

Zika infection is also a threat to the nonpregnant in that it is strongly associated with a much higher risk of developing post viral paralysis, Known as a Guillain-Barré syndrome. World Health Organization researchers note that there is been a spike of Guillain-Barre "everywhere that we are seeing to seek a virus".

In the good news department, breast cancer survivors are now believed to be able to safely use vaginal estrogen therapy. Vaginal estrogen therapy is used to treat vaginal atrophy, often see in menopause or after breast cancer treatments which stop a woman from producing estrogen. Vaginal atrophy is a painful condition which causes various problems and prohibits intercourse. We do not give systemic estrogen to breast cancer survivors since we are concerned it could encourage a cancer recurrence. Vaginal treatments are not believed to produce a systemic dose. 

In more good news, a cheap easy to use vaginal ring is helping to curb HIV transmission rates in Africa. The rings slowly releases an antiviral drug to combat HIV and it needs to be changed every 4 weeks. It reduces transmission by 30 %. 

In concerning news, preeclampsia in pregnancy seems to be associated with a measurable risk of cardiovascular disease later in life. The effect is so pronounced, that left ventricular functional abnormalities can be seen on imaging family soon after delivery. 

Also concerning is new research indicating that breast cancer risk may be increased in those with hyperthyroidism. 

Finally, in the news-that-sounds-like-science-fiction department, the first uterus transplant in America has been performed. The recipient is 26 years old. She will have to wait year before attempting In vitro fertilization. If she succeeds, she will be permitted to keep her uterus for one of two children and then it will be removed. 








Medical Monday: Gardasil Gets an Upgrade

Most of you are familiar with Human Papilloma Virus, aka HPV. This is the very prevalent virus which causes precancer and cancer of the human anogenital area. When I first started training in gynecology, fighting HPV seems like such an uphill battle, since it spreads so easily and is so prevalent. And then came the idea of a vaccine. It seemed too good to be true. 

Gardasil was developed and released. I am proud to say one of my friends was involved. It protects against two strains of HPV known to cause cancer, and two which cause condyloma or warts. Physicians all over the world rejoiced, but adoption rates weren't what we had hoped. 

Gardasil was initially studied in girls and women since the disease caused in women is more common and more severe. And so it was initially approved only for women. I got all my children vaccinated, and even the boys before it was approved for boys. One of my sons did some research after he got his shot, and approached me later, asking, " Mom isn't this just for girls ? " I reassured him that nothing bad would happen. It works just as well in boys and men, who distribute the virus, usually without having any disease themselves.  It eventually was approved for boys. 

Now Gardasil has been expanded to cover NINE viruses ! It is worth noting who is eligible to receive it: 

Boys ages 9-15.

Girls and women ages 9-26. 

 I expect that the age differential in eligibility between boys and girls is simple a case of what groups have had validating studies done, and I anticipate that the boys group will be expanded to the same age group as girls eventually. 

Chilling statistics anyone? 

" In 2013, coverage of at least one dose of HPV vaccine was 57.3% among adolescent girls and 34.6% among adolescent boys2According to the CDC, for every year that coverage does not increase, an additional 4,400 women will develop cervical cancer3. Furthermore, if health care providers increase HPV vaccination coverage to 80%, it is estimated that an additional 53,000 cases of cervical cancer could be prevented during the lifetime of those younger than 12 years." 

reference: ACOG Clinical Practice: The 9-Valent HPV Vaccine 

Gardasil has had a very good side effect profile, with just some arm soreness at the site. We believe its benefits far outweigh the risks. 

To learn more about HPV, please see Pap Smears, HPV and Cervical Health