By: Taylor Eisenstein
Currently, 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, while 14 million new infections arise per year. More than 80 percent of both men and women are likely infected by age 45. One study estimated that prevaccine HPV prevalence among U.S. females aged 14 to 59 years was 26.8 percent; prevalence was highest among women aged 20 to 24 years—the ages closest to sexual debut. In fact, HPV is so common that most sexually active men and women will become infected at some point in life, but they may not be aware. HPV infection has also been linked to genital warts and cancers, including cervical, anal, penile, throat, and vaginal kinds.
There are over 150 types of HPV; approximately 40 of these types can infect anogenital regions. It is estimated that 15 of these types are potentially carcinogenic and high-risk. High-risk types 16 and 18 occur most frequently and account for 70 percent of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions. Low-risk types, such as 6 and 11, can lead to genital warts. Approximately 38,793 incident cases of cancer are found per year in regions of the body that HPV can infect, and HPV causes approximately 30,700 of these cases. For instance, nearly 91 percent of anal cancers, 72 percent of cancers of the back of the throat, and almost all cervical cancers are associated with HPV. One study found that vaccines targeting types 16 and 18 prevent the majority—24,858 cases—of HPV-associated cancers in the U.S. annually. Cervical cancer itself caused 4,217 deaths in the United States in 2013.
By taking advantage of HPV vaccines, one can reduce risk for cancer. One study utilized data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) to determine how vaccine-type HPV prevalence has changed over the years since its introduction. In females of 14 through 19 years, prior to vaccine introduction, prevalence was 11.5 percent. This decreased to 5.1 percent post-introduction. Another study found that the vaccine was effective in preventing incident and persistent HPV 16 and 18 infections. By providing evidence for HPV vaccine effectiveness, these studies emphasize the importance of vaccination.
Many HPV awareness campaigns exist in an effort to persuade target audiences to get vaccinated. Campaigns often target the most susceptible population—individuals closest to sexual debut, like university students—in addition to parents. Parents can initiate vaccination in children prior to sexual behavior. The CDC has created a variety of awareness materials aimed at increasing vaccine prevalence, such as infographics, flyers, and posters. Organizations such as the HPV Awareness Corporation also aim to encourage vaccination and raise awareness for HPV by providing additional resources and information. For more information about obtaining the HPV vaccine, contact your nearest medical professional.
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