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Should More Missouri Teens Get HPV Vaccine?

At least 70 percent of sexually active persons will be infected with genital HPV at some time in their lives. Courtesy of: National Cancer Institute
At least 70 percent of sexually active persons will be infected with genital HPV at some time in their lives. Courtesy of: National Cancer Institute
July 1, 2013

ST. LOUIS - Public health experts believe they have the tool to halt the spread of the most common sexually-transmitted disease in the world, the human papilloma virus. The tool is the HPV vaccine. But they say it's not implemented widely enough, even though science proves that it works.

A new CDC study credits the HPV vaccine with a 50 percent drop in infection rates among teenaged girls in the United States in recent years. The National Cancer Institute is encouraged by the study and so is Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

"Certain strains of HPV absolutely cause cancer," she said. "They cause cervical cancer in women and they cause throat cancer in men."

According to health experts, the problem is that only about one third of teen girls in Missouri and around the nation have completed the series of three shots. In countries such as Britain and Denmark, the vaccination rate is 80 percent. With thousands of men and women getting cancer caused by the HPV virus, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many private physicians are encouraging parents to get their girls and boys vaccinated before the young people become sexually active.

The CDC recommends that girls and boys get vaccinated at ages 11 or 12. But doctors say some parents don't think it's necessary when their children are not yet sexually active. The CDC says that's the point. The vaccine will have time to develop an immune response before they begin sexual activity. The immune response is also better in preteens.

Gianino encourages parents to do research on the topic and consult their pediatricians.

"Because there is no doubt that if we can vaccinate more young girls and young boys, we can make even more significant not only reduction in HPV infection rates, but we can bring down these cancer rates as well," she said.

According to the National Cancer Institute, at least 70 percent of sexually-active persons will be infected with HPV at some time in their lives. The CDC says HPV causes 19,000 cases of cancer in women every year, mostly cervical cancer, and 8,000 cases, mostly throat cancer, in men. The Institute predicts that by 2020 the men's cancers may outnumber the women's.

Still, a recent study in Pediatrics found 44 percent of parents saying no to the HPV vaccine.

More information is at CDC.gov and at cancer.gov.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MO