Reuters NewMedia - January 2, 2012
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Some adolescent girls who get the HPV vaccine
to prevent cervical cancer wrongly think they no longer need to
practice safe sex, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent
Medicine, shows the need for better education about the vaccines
and their limitations.
Merck's Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix vaccines protect
against strains of the humanpapilloma virus or HPV that cause
cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against some strains of
the virus that cause genital warts.
But neither vaccine can prevent other forms of sexually
transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea or human
immunodeficiency virus or HIV that causes AIDS.
And HPV vaccines can only prevent HPV infections; they do not
treat active infections.
Most girls who get the vaccine know its limitations, the
researchers said, but the vaccines are recommended for all girls
aged 11 to 12, and overestimating their effect could increase a
young woman's risk of contracting other sexually transmitted
For the study, Dr. Tanya Kowalczyk Mullins of Cincinnati
Children's Hospital Medical Center and colleagues surveyed 339
girls aged 13 to 21 about their perceptions of risk after their
first HPV vaccination. Several mothers also took part.
Overall, most adolescent girls said they believed it was
important to practice safe sexual behaviors after getting the
shot. But a small group of girls -- 23.6 percent -- believed they
were less at risk for getting sexually transmitted diseases after
getting the vaccine.
Factors associated with this view included having less
information about the vaccine and about HPV infections, less
concern about contracting HPV and lack of condom use at last
sexual intercourse with a male partner.
The findings suggest doctors need to do a better job of educating
girls and their mothers about the vaccine.
"Clinicians discussing HPV vaccination with girls and their
mothers may need to emphasize the limitations of the vaccine and
to specifically address that the vaccine does not prevent other
sexually transmitted infections," the team wrote.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the
United States. More than half of U.S. adults will be exposed to
the virus at some point during their lifetime.
The authors said the study was limited in that subjects came from
a single urban clinic serving low-income clients so the findings
may not apply to more general populations.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, but
some authors have been awarded research grants from Merck.