Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There are more than 40 varieties of the virus, which can infect both males and females. Most people are asymptomatic, showing no signs they have it or show symptoms once certain health conditions become advanced. An exclusive group of HPV strains are associated with encouraging the development of cancers and genital warts.
Although most infected with HPV will not have complications from the virus, there are an estimated 529,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 275,000 deaths connected to HPV per year worldwide. About 12,000 women in the US develop cervical cancer each year.
In an effort for early detection and treatment, women, especially those who are sexually active, are urged to undergo Pap smears. This is a screening exam performed by a physician in which samples are collected and tested to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous processes in the endocervical canal of the female reproductive system.
The CDC also recommends both preteen boys (who can be carriers) and girls be vaccinated for HPV. The Mayo Clinic routinely starts the shot series for HPV at age 9.
The HPV vaccine, administered in a series of three shots, is intended to prevent infection linked to cervical cancer causing species of HPV. Two HPV vaccines currently available on the market are Gardasil and Cervarix.
Both vaccines protect against the two HPV types, HPV-16 and HPV-18, responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancers, 80 percent of anal cancers, 60 percent of vaginal cancers, and 40 percent of vulvar cancers. Additionally, both vaccines have been shown to prevent precancerous lesions of the cervix.
However, despite evidence supporting the effectiveness of HPV vaccinations, parents are concerned over the potential side effects their children may encounter. New research performed by the University of Oklahoma’s Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City demonstrated that due to apprehension, many parents intended to forgo acquiring the shots for their children altogether.
Dr. Amanda Dempsey, from the University of Colorado Denver, feels the anxiety is based on sensationalized subjective reports of patients having negative vaccine-associated adverse events. Often times this is the case with other essential boosters, where fears of life-long side effects dissuade parents from having their children immunized for serious but preventable illnesses.
A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlighted a 12-month period where 74 percent of pediatricians stated they had encountered a parent who adamantly refused or intentionally delayed one or more scheduled vaccinations for their child.
The study’s co-author Dr. Paul Darden and his colleagues assembled national immunization survey data of teens from 2008 to 2010, primarily composed from phone polls performed on 100,000 parents. The analysis revealed three-quarters of girls 13 to 17 years of age were not up to date on their HPV shot series in 2010, though other immunizations for Tdap and MCV4 had increased slightly in contrast.
Parents refusing to continue or initiate the series of HPV vaccinations jumped from 40 to 44 percent. Many voiced their reason for abstaining had to do with safety concerns while nearly five percent felt the shots were completely unnecessary. Other parents simply refused to accept the possibility their child was engaging in sex; therefore, they assumed their children were not at risk for contracting HPV.
Dempsey urges parents should not solely rely on the media or internet to learn about vaccines but should seek out a trusted medical provider who can accurately inform them on the benefits and potential dangers associated with immunizations.
The study was funded through a US Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Research Program grant (R40 MC 21522).
[Image via Wikicommons]