Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a group of viruses, of which the most serious can cause cervical cancer in women. The virus also causes genital warts. Each year over 470,000 women around the world have contracted cervical cancer due to the virus. An estimated 3,700 women die from the strain of the virus that leads to cancer each year.
The HPV vaccine has been developed to help fight both cervical cancer and genital warts. Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection that afflicts at least 2 percent of young adults. The treatment of the warts is a very painful process and also a very expensive one. Genital warts can also cause sexual dysfunction in the person who has contracted them.
Research into the HPV vaccine has shown that it can reduce the rate of infection by more than 90 percent. The breakdown for the reduction is 70 percent reduction in the virus for cervical cancer and almost total reduction in the infection that causes genital warts. The HPV vaccine is thought to have no side effects on the body.
Scientists believe that the best age to administer the vaccine is to girls aged 10 to 13 years. Theoretically, girls are not sexually active at these ages and therefore would not carry the virus. Although the HPV vaccine can be used to prevent the transmission of the virus, it cannot be used to treat women already infected.
The HPV vaccine would be a huge health benefit for developing countries by greatly reducing the risk of infection for women in these countries. HPV and cervical smear tests are seldom conducted and sometimes not at all in underdeveloped and very poor countries.
The HPV vaccine has been the cause of much controversy in some quarters. Some religious sectors are vehemently opposed to giving the HPV vaccine to teenage or prepubescent girls. They say that as the HPV vaccine protects against sexually transmitted diseases it could be seen as advocating promiscuous sex. Other religions have said that it breaks the "no sex before marriage" rule.
This argument has been countered by Dr Laura Koutsy. Koutsy is a leading epidemiologist who developed the HPV vaccine. According to Koutsy, the vaccine should not be considered a green light for sex, but rather, a red light for cancer.