Girls who had been vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) weren’t more likely to get other sexually transmitted infections or to become pregnant, in a new study from Georgia.
That goes against worries on the part of some that getting the vaccine - which is supposed to ultimately help prevent cervical cancer - would encourage girls to become sexually active or engage in riskier sex than they otherwise would.
“Some parents have expressed it as a concern,” said Saad Omer, an infectious diseases and vaccine researcher from Emory University in Atlanta who worked on the study.
“Parents can be reassured at least based on the evidence that young girls who receive HPV vaccines did not show increased signs (of) clinical outcomes of sexual activity,” he told Reuters Health.
The vaccine, which has been recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls in the U.S. since 2006, is still controversial, and only about half of girls start the series of shots.
One of the arguments against it has been that vaccination will make pre-teens feel a false sense of security when it comes to sex.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now calls for boys to get vaccinated as well.
What is human papillomavirus (HPV)?
Human papillomavirus is the main cause of cervical cancer. About 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer each year, almost all of it associated with HPV.
HPV affects both men and women. It’s the cause of anal, mouth and throat, penile, vaginal, and other cancers, as well as genital warts, which are found in about 1 in 100 sexually active adults in the United States.
If you think it’s unlikely that you’re infected, consider this: HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), and most infected people don’t even realize they have it or that they’re spreading it to their sexual partners. It’s so commonplace that at least 50 percent of sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their life.
“Sexually active” doesn’t mean having sex with lots of people. It simply means that you’ve had sex with at least one person. And if that person had sex with at least one other person, you’re at risk.
Of course the more people you’ve had sex with, the greater the risk – but the only people fully protected from HPV are monogamous partners who have never had sex with anyone else. As a result, about 20 million Americans are already infected with the virus, and 6 million more become infected every year.
HPV typically spreads through vaginal and anal sex, and oral sex. It can be transmitted between male and female partners and between same-sex partners. You can have HPV even if you haven’t had sex for many years or haven’t had sexual contact with an infected person for many years.
Unfortunately, there’s no routine way to be tested for HPV. The only approved HPV tests available are used for screening women for cervical cancer. And there’s no approved HPV test for men.
There are several types of HPV and you can become infected with more than one type. Don’t confuse HPV with herpes or HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), though. All are sexually transmitted but each causes different health problems.
The two HPV vaccines
Two HPV vaccines are licensed by the FDA and recommended by the CDC: Gardasil and Cervarix.
How the vaccines are similar
Both vaccines are very effective against HPV types 16 and 18, which cause most cervical cancers.
Both are very safe.
Both are made with very small parts of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cannot cause infection with HPV, so neither vaccine can cause HPV infection.
Both are injected and require three doses.
How the vaccines are different
Gardasil also protects against HPV types 6 and 11. These HPV types cause most genital warts in females and males.
Gardasil has also been shown to protect against anal, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
The vaccines have different adjuvants. (A vaccine adjuvant is a substance that’s added to the vaccine to improve the body’s immune response.)
For the new study, Omer and his colleagues analyzed databases from Kaiser Permanente Georgia, a managed care organization covering the Atlanta area. Out of 1,398 girls who were 11 or 12 when they saw their doctors in 2006 and 2007, 493 got at least one dose of the HPV vaccine.
Based on records of their primary care visits, 107 of the girls included in the study were given a pregnancy test through 2010, and 55 were tested for Chlamydia.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus. There are more than 100 different types of HPV, at least 40 of which are spread through sexual contact and can infect the genital area.
Like other infections, HPV may go away without any treatment or problems - but certain low-risk types (e.g. types 6 and 11) may cause warts in the genital area, and at least 15 high-risk types of HPV (e.g. types 16 and 18) may cause cancer. There is no medicine that can cure the virus.
Girls who did or didn’t get the HPV vaccine were equally likely to be tested for both.
Two girls in each group got pregnant during the study. One girl who’d been vaccinated was diagnosed with Chlamydia, compared to three unvaccinated girls, according to findings published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.