HPV losing ground in Australia, thanks to vaccination

There are many types of HPV and only a few cause complications. These complications include genital warts and various types of cancers of the genital organs (e.g. cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in men).

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most widespread viruses in the world. It is transmitted through sexual contact as well as skin-to-skin contact. HPV infects the mucus membrane of the mouth, tongue, throat, tonsils, vagina, penis, cervix and anus. Most people infected with HPV show no signs or symptoms and experience no complications as a result of the infection.

There are many types of HPV and only a few cause complications. These complications include genital warts and various types of cancers of the genital organs (e.g. cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in men).

For the past few years, an HPV vaccine has been available to girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. In 2007, Australia was a forerunner by establishing a school vaccination program for 12- and 13-year-old girls, and by offering vaccination clinics to women between the ages of 13 and 26. Three years after the school vaccination program was implemented, the vaccination rate was between 73 and 83 percent in young women eligible for the vaccine.

The results are very encouraging: in the two years following the start of vaccination, cases of genital warts in young women between the ages of 13 and 26 dropped by 59 percent. Young men also benefitted from the women’s immunization, because their rate of genital wart diagnoses dropped by 39 percent in the same period. A marked drop in precancerous lesions was also observed in vaccinated young women, which is expected to result in a lower rate of genital cancers later in life.

While genital warts are more bothersome than dangerous, vaginal or cervical cancer can be fatal. The good news is that HPV vaccination is safe and effective. In Quebec, the HPV vaccine is part of the routine immunization schedule available to girls, with the first dose administered in grade 4 and the second dose given in grade 9. If you have any questions on vaccination or sexually transmitted conditions, don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.

http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f2032

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