More Americans ages 18 to 59 may be infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV) than previously had been known, with 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women carrying high-risk strains, federal experts say.
The new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may become a key part of campaigns to get more parents to vaccinate youngsters against HPV infections. They have been found to cause cervical cancer and have been tied to cancers of the throat, anus, and male and female reproductive organs.
HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and it is concerning that the CDC found that almost half of Americans’ are infected. But public health leaders have confronted ignorance and adult prudery—by physicians, public officials, and parents—as they try to get boys and girls, ages 11 and 12, inoculated and protected against the virus.
Experts have reduced the recommended number of anti-HPV shots, but insist they must be given before young people become sexually active and expose themselves to getting the virus, by which time a vaccine shot is too late. Opponents have suggested the shots and discussion about them encourage promiscuity or earlier sexual experimentation. That has not been backed up by evidence, while meantime, experts have found, as the Washington Post summarizes it:
HPV [has become] the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. The CDC estimates that nearly 80 million people are infected and that about 14 million new infections occur annually among teenagers and adults. Most of these go away on their own, typically without even causing symptoms, but some HPV strains can lead to genital warts and cancer. Each year, 31,000 men and women are diagnosed with cancers caused by HPV— which, in most cases, would have been preventable with the HPV vaccine, according to the CDC.
Oncologists have become so excited about the possibility of preventing HPV-tied cancers, especially cervical cancer, which has been a leading killer of women and especially younger women, that they have prodded pediatricians to encourage anti-viral vaccinations for youngsters. Major cancer centers have campaigned for this. Experts also say that, for many women, an HPV test may serve as a primary cervical cancer screening, though it may be optimal to combine it with a Pap smear, too.
The startling CDC statistics about HPV infections, based on national public health surveys, physical exams, and lab testing, included some of the first significant data on the virus and men. They have slightly higher infection rates than women do, and HPV-related cancers among men are increasing. Younger gay men are paying more attention to HPV risks. The CDC found the highest rates of HPV genital infections among blacks, while the lowest were among Asians. Whites’ genital HPV infection rate was 21.6 percent. It was 21.7 percent among Hispanics.
I’ve written that vaccinations, generally, speaking can be imperfect and they can pose their own health risks. But anti-vaccination advocates simply are counter factual, lack evidence for their views, and their unfounded opposition to inoculations, one of the lifesaving and life changing advances of medicine and science, is unacceptable. In my practice, I see the harms that patients can suffer while seeking medical services, including in the misdiagnosis and bad treatment of cancer. If we continue to see growing scientific evidence that shows so powerfully how vaccinations can slash HPV’s harms, we cannot ignore their use at our young people’s peril.