At any given time, nearly 40% of women are infected with one of the strains of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease.
The virus establishes infections only in the outer layer of the epidermis or in mucous membranes and is the cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
Though the majority of HPV strains cause no symptoms in most people, some types can cause warts and, in a minority of cases, can lead to cancers of not only the cervix, but of the vulva, vagina, anus, throat and penis as well.
In 2006, immunization experts recommended that starting as early as 11 years old, all girls receive an HPV vaccine to assure immunity develops before they became sexually active. Since the introduction of the program, religious and conservative groups have argued that the policy will encourage promiscuity.
Scientists from Emory University and Kaiser Permanente recently completed a large study that provides strong evidence against such an argument.
Robert Bednarczyk, epidemiologist at Emory University’s Hubert Department of Global Health, lead author of the study, explains the need for early vaccination: “I think it’s important to remember that the National Survey of Family Growth found that among 15 to 17 –year-old females, 27% reported having sexual intercourse by that age range.
“And in these studies of HPV infection, we found that even among 14 to 19 –year-olds almost a third of them were infected with at least one HPV strain.
“When we find that sort of prevalence, it’s an indication that vaccination early is important to ensure protection.”
To investigate for evidence of promiscuity, the research team examined the medical records of 1398 girls from the time they were 11 years old to ages 14 to15. Some of the girls had received the HPV vaccine and some had not. The researchers looked for evidence of testing or diagnosis for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections or for counseling about contraceptive use.
The results? Bednarczyk said, “What we found was that over all, there was no difference between the two vaccine groups in these outcomes. What was interesting was that about 10% of the girls overall had testing or diagnosis for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, or counseling on contraceptive use.”
Asked if the epidemiologist thought the results from his study would change the minds of the religious and conservatives, he replied, “I’m hoping it will help put parents’ minds at ease.
“The biggest thing that we’re hoping for is that physicians are willing to take this information, and when they have adolescents coming into their office, they can present that information to their patients and say, ‘this is a safe vaccine, this is an effective vaccine’—and that it hasn’t been linked to earlier onset of sexual activity or to increased sexual activity.”
Sources: SmartPlanet Daily, January 25, 2013 Wikipedia Study published in Pediatrics, January 2013