HPV infections seen in over quarter of U.S. women

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than a quarter of U.S. girls and women ages 14 to 59 are infected with the sexually transmitted human wart virus, which causes most cases of cervical cancer, U.S. health officials estimated on Tuesday.

“Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
óRevelation 9:21

That means human papillomavirus or HPV infection is more common than previously thought, particularly among younger age groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers said. Its prevalence was highest among those 20 to 24, with 44.8 percent infected, and nearly a quarter of teenagers aged 14 to 19.

This first solid assessment of the U.S. female prevalence of HPV infection comes about nine months after the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine against certain types of the virus to prevent cervical cancer.

Using data from a nationally representative group of 1,921 girls and women ages 14 to 49 who provided vaginal swabs in 2003 and 2004, researchers led by the CDC’s Dr. Eileen Dunne found that 26.8 percent were infected with any type of this virus.

That rate translates to a total of 24.9 million U.S. girls and women, according to Dunne’s team, whose findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“It’s a highly prevalent infection,” Dunne said in a telephone interview, adding that the findings highlight the importance of cervical cancer screening. “Many women are at risk for this infection.”

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. High-risk HPV types can cause cervical, anal, penile and other genital cancers. Low-risk types can cause genital warts.

Among those aged 14 to 19, 24.5 percent were infected.

Added to the 44.8 percent of those 20 to 24 who were infected, this translates to 7.5 million girls and women age 14 to 24 infected, higher than a previous estimate of 4.6 million, the researchers said.

The infection rate hovered at about 1 in 4 for older age groups until the 50 to 59 age group who had 1 in 5 infected.

Nearly 40 percent of blacks in all age groups were infected, compared to about 24 percent of whites.

USUALLY IS HARMLESS

HPV infects about half of sexually active adults at some time, but usually is harmless. About 90 percent of infections clear within two years.

But the virus can cause abnormal cells in the cervix lining that can turn cancerous. Cancer of the cervix kills about 300,000 women worldwide annually, including about 4,000 in the United States.

The FDA last June approved Merck & Co. Inc.’s vaccine Gardasil for girls and young women ages 9 to 26. The new data provides prevalence estimates predating the vaccine.

CDC recommends it for routine use for girls ages 11 to 12.

Some conservatives are against making the vaccine mandatory, arguing abstaining from sex is the best path to avoid infection. Curtis Allen, a CDC spokesman on vaccine issues, said decisions on making the vaccine mandatory for these girls will be left to local authorities.

The vaccine was the first designed specifically to prevent a cancer. The idea is to vaccinate girls before they ever get infected. The vaccine is less effective when HPV already is present.

Given in three doses over six months, Gardasil targets four HPV types thought to be responsible for more than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases and 90 percent of genital warts cases.

Men also are infected with the virus. The CDC did not involve men but Dunne said she was considering such a study.

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