1 in 4 U.S. Women Carries Cervical Cancer Virus

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, February 27, 2007; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- The first survey of a broad age range of U.S. women finds more than 25 percent are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), thought to be the cause of most cases of cervical cancer.

Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the study, said the numbers support the vaccination of young girls and college-age women with the newly approved HPV vaccine, Gardasil.

The CDC currently recommends that the vaccine be routinely given to girls 11 and 12 years of age to help prevent infection with the sexually transmitted virus. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also recommends Gardasil for use in girls beginning at age 9 -- at the provider's discretion -- and in young women up to the age of 26.

The new statistics on prevalence won't change those recommendations, the study's authors said.

"It's important for people to know that this is a highly prevalent infection, that sexually active women are likely to acquire this infection, and that it is important to have regular cervical cancer screenings at this point as currently recommended. There's also [CDC] recommendations for using the HPV vaccine to prevent certain types of HPV," said study lead author Dr. Eileen Dunne, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC.

Her team's survey of more than 2,000 American women aged 14 to 59 found 26.8 percent of them testing positive for the presence of any strain of HPV in the vaginal tract -- equivalent to almost 25 million women.

HPV prevalence rose during adolescence and peaked among college-age women (20 to 24 years of age), with almost half (44.8 percent) of women in this age group testing positive for the virus.

Overall, the rate of infection for females aged 14 to 24 was 33.8 percent, or about 7.5 million young American women. That rate is substantially higher than previous estimates of about 4.6 million HPV infections in this same age group, the researchers noted.

Rates dropped off gradually as women got older, the study found.

The findings are published in the Feb. 28 issue of theJournal of the American Medical Association.

Because the body's immune system usually clears HPV from the body within six months, the study results do not reflect a woman's lifetime risk of ever acquiring the virus, the researchers stressed.

"People acquire these infections and then clear them," explained the study's senior author, Dr. Lauri Markowitz, another CDC medical epidemiologist who is director of the agency's HPV Vaccine Working Group.


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