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Cancer-Causing HPV Infections Plummet Thanks To Vaccines, Study Finds

Fewer young women have been diagnosed with human papillomavirus (HPV) since doctors began pushing a new vaccine for the cancer-causing infection, a new study shows.

The biggest drop in infection was found among girls between 14 and 19 years old, CNN reported. Rates of infection for the four most prevalent types of HPV dropped from 11.5 to 4.3 percent, researchers at the CDC found. For women between the ages of 20 and 34, infection rates were reduced from 18.5 to 12.1 percent.

The study compared rates from before the vaccine was recommended (between 2003 and 2006) and the most recent data from after the vaccine was recommended (between 2009 and 2012).

"These results are very encouraging and show the effectiveness of the vaccine," Lauri E. Markowitz, a CDC medical epidemiologist and lead author of the study, told CNN. "Eventually we expect to see decreases in HPV in older groups as women who were young (enough to get the vaccine) age."

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the CDC, which says that "nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives." Most of the time, HPV does not cause significant symptoms, but the infection can lead to genital warts and cancer, even years after a victim contracts the virus from an infected sexual partner.

Two particular strains of HPV are the cause of about 70 percent of all cervical cancers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO found "as much as 18-fold" difference in mortality rates for women in industrialized and developing countries, attributing the difference to the availability and quality of medical care.

The U.S. could virtually wipe out HPV infections the same way it has with infections like polio and measles, Markowitz told CNN. To do that, she said, big players in the health community, like the American Cancer Society, must work together to educate the public and increase vaccination rates.

Support from doctors is also crucial, according to Markowitz.

"Like all vaccines, having a strong recommendation by the clinician is one of greatest predictors of getting vaccinated," Markowitz said.

As a story by WebMD notes, vaccination efforts have been partially slowed by opposition from the anti-vaccination movement. The movement has been blamed for isolated outbreaks of the measles in the U.S., especially in communities where a large number of parents refuse to vaccinate their children due to fears about vaccines.

Despite that, the findings from the most recent CDC study are a "really strong call to get people vaccinated," Rebecca Perkins, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, told CNN.

Sources: CNN, World Health Organization, WebMD / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Daniel Paquet/Flickr

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