The prevalence of dangerous strains of the human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and a principal cause of cervical cancer — has dropped by half among teenage girls, a striking measure of success for a vaccine that was introduced only in 2006, federal health officials said yesterday.
Infection with the viral strains that cause cancer dropped to 3.6 percent among girls ages 14 to 19 in 2010, from 7.2 percent in 2006, a new study has found. The vaccine protects against strains of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancers.
“These are striking results,” said Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They should be a wake-up call that we need to increase vaccination rates. The bottom line is this: It is possible to protect the next generation from cancer, and we need to do it.”
The study, published in the June issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, covered the years 2003 to 2010. Its findings were based on a national survey that is conducted every two years and considered the gold standard on health indicators. Governmen
The decline surprised public health experts because vaccination rates in the U.S. are still relatively low. Only about a third of teenage girls have been vaccinated with the full course of three doses, far lower than in other wealthy countries such as Denmark and Britain, where vaccination rates are above 80 percent. Even Rwanda, a developing country in central Africa, has reached 80 percent.
Frieden said the low vaccination rate in the U.S. means that 50,000 girls alive today eventually will develop fatal cervical cancer, deaths that could have been prevented if the country’s rate had been 80 percent.
About 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. Each year, about 14 million people become infected. The virus causes about 19,000 cancers in women every year, and 8,000 in men, according to the CDC. Cervical cancer is the most common among women; among men, throat cancer is most common.