HPV infections fell by half in teen girls after vaccine was introduced

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In the four years following the 2006 introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, the prevalence of HPV infection — the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States — dropped by half in adolescent girls, according to a study published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This decline was much higher than public-health officials had expected. Officials hope the results will encourage more adolescents to receive the vaccine.

“Unfortunately, only one third of girls aged 13-17 have been fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine,” noted Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, in a press statement. “Countries such as Rwanda have vaccinated more than 80 percent of their teen girls.”

A serious health concern

About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with the HPV virus, according to the CDC. The infection usually goes away on its own, and most people never realize they’ve had the virus. But in some cases, an HPV infection leads to serious health problems, including several types of cancer.

HPV is the main cause of the 19,000 annual cases of cervical cancer that develop in American women. It also causes 8,000 cases of cancers in American men each year, mostly oropharyngeal (throat) cancer. Other cancers associated with HPV include those of the vagina, penis and anus.

Study details

For the new study, CDC researchers used National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data to compare HPV prevalence among American women aged 14-59 in the three-year periods before (2003-2006) and after (2007-2010) the introduction of the HPV vaccine. More than 8,000 women were included in the study. In addition to answering survey questions, the women provided vaginal swabs that were then analyzed by the CDC.

The researchers found that among teenage girls (aged 14 to 19), the prevalence of HPV infections covered by the vaccines fell from 11.5 percent in 2003-2006 to 5.1 percent in 2007-2010, or a decline of 56 percent.

A closer look revealed that among the girls who had received the vaccine, the drop in infections was 88 percent.

Significantly, no decreases were observed in the other (non-vaccinated) age groups.

These results occurred despite the fact that most young women are not getting vaccinated against HPV. The CDC researchers found that only 49 percent of young women aged 13 to 17 had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and only 32 percent had received all three doses.

Dr. Tom Frieden hopes this study will be a “wake-up call” for parents and young women.

“Our low vaccination rates represent 50,000 preventable tragedies — 50,000 girls alive today will develop cervical cancer over their lifetime that would have been prevented if we reach 80 percent vaccination rates,” Frieden pointed out in his statement. “For every year we delay in doing so, another 4,400 girls will develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes.”

Minnpost & PBS News Hour

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