Vaccination Leads to Sharp Drop in HPV Infections

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A decade-old vaccine is being credited for a sharp decline in cases of a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer.

Federal researchers report today in the journal Pediatrics that since the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine became available, infection rates for dangerous strains of the virus:

  • Have decreased from 11.5 percent to 4.3 percent among all females who are 14 to 19 years old.
  • Have decreased from 18.5 percent to 12.1 percent all females ages 20 to 24 years old.
  • Are lower among sexually active females who are 14 to 24 years old who have been vaccinated (2.1 percent), compared with those who have not been vaccinated (16.9 percent).

The researchers’ study was based on a comparison of data from 2003 to 2006 (described as “the prevaccine era”) and 2009 to 2012 (a period during which the vaccine was available).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that girls and boys be vaccinated at age 11 or 12, or up to age 26 in some cases for people who were not vaccinated when they were younger.

The federal agency states that vaccination is important because it protects against cancers caused by HPV infections, which include:

  • Cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women
  • Penile cancer in men
  • Anal and oropharynx (back of the throat) cancers and genital warts in both men and women

According to the CDC, one in four people is currently infected with HPV.

Debbie Saslow, director of Cancer Control Intervention for HPV Vaccination and Women’s Cancers at the nonprofit American Cancer Society, tells USA Today that the decline in HPV infection rates will mean less disease related to HPV. Initially, that will mean fewer cases of genital warts and pre-cancers for women in their 20s:

“Then, 10 years later, that’s when we are going to start to see the cancers drop.”

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