HPV Vaccine Linked with Falling Infection Rates

The prevalence of dangerous strains of the human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and a principal cause of cervical cancer — has dropped by half among teenage girls in recent years, a striking measure of success for a vaccine against the virus that was introduced only in 2006, federal health officials said on Wednesday.

There are some signs that resistance to the vaccine may be growing. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in March found that 44 percent of parents in 2010 said they did not intend to vaccinate their daughters, up from 40 percent in 2008. Because it prevents a sexually transmitted infection, the vaccine comes with a stigma. Some parents worry it promotes promiscuity. And it has been controversial. During the Republican primary in 2011, Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, said the vaccine could have “dangerous side effects,” a concern that health officials say is unfounded.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends this vaccination series for all girls 11 years of age and older. The series of shots are administered over a six-month time frame. It is important that all three shots are given to ensure protection against HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer.

According to Dr. Angela Parson, an OB/GYN at Hampton Roads OB/GYN Center, “Some girls enter puberty as early as age eight, while others begin later at ages 17 or 18.” It’s important to examine your options for vaccination during puberty and before sexual exposure to get the maximum protection. “HPV is America’s most common sexually transmitted virus,” says Dr. Parson, “and the vaccine can protect women from HPV infections that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts. These vaccinations are most effective from age 9 to 26 before sexual exposure.”

Yet even with relatively low vaccination rates in the United States, infection with the viral strains that cause cancer dropped to 3.6 percent among girls ages 14 to 19 in 2010, from 7.2 percent in 2006, the officials said.

There are two HPV vaccines, one made by Merck for boys and girls, and one by GlaxoSmithKline, for girls. Experts recommended in 2007 that all girls get vaccinated, and extended that guidance to boys in 2011.

You want to make the biggest impact, which means that children should get the vaccination long before sexual exposure.

+ Read more articles about HPV screening and prevention.

+ Find an OB/GYN or primary care physician in Hampton Roads.

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