The human papillomavirus or HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. But there is a vaccine that protects against the most dangerous strains. Now, a new study shows that since the HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006, infection rates have dropped 56 percent among female teenagers. That's a larger decrease than government health officials thought they would see.
"There could be some herd immunity which means individuals are protected even though they haven't been vaccinated themselves," explained Dr. Lauri Markowitz of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, HPV causes about 19,000 cancers in women in the U.S., with cervical cancer being the most common. HPV also causes about 8,000 cancers in men, throat cancers are the most common. The virus can also cause genital warts.
The vaccine is controversial because pediatricians recommend both girls and boys are vaccinated very young, at the age of 11 to 12, before their first sexual encounter. Some parents are reluctant to vaccinate. Recent surveys show only 50 percent of girls have received the first dose of the three-shot vaccine. The rates are even lower for boys.
"This should provide additional incentive and assurance for providers and parents and it should help increase our vaccination coverage in the U.S.," Markowitz said.
Ashleigh Rook, 16, says she plans to get the vaccine and her mom agrees.
"I think as a parent I have to have that conversation with my daughter. I think it's a good thing," mom Laura Rook said.
"I think it's definitely a good idea to take all the precautions I can," Ashleigh said.
Ashleigh says she'll be vaccinated before she heads off to college next year.
Each year about 14 million people become infected with HPV, but most do not lead to cancer.
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