When we talk about human papillomavirus (HPV), we’re actually talking about several different sexually-transmitted viruses. HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, anal, penile, mouth, and throat cancers (more than 40,000 Americans die each year from HPV-related illnesses). In addition, HPV has been associated with difficulties and delays in trying to become pregnant. Fortunately, since 2006, there’s been an HPV vaccine, and as of today, it protects against nine different viruses. But with more than 40 percent of American teens getting vaccinated, researchers at Boston University’s School of Public Health believed the time was ripe to respond to public concerns that the vaccine, itself, could cause fertility problems. The findings of their study were published in Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.
Hypothesizing that the HPV vaccine would protect, rather than harm, fertility, the researchers analyzed existing data from the Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), following 3,483 female pregnancy planners and 1022 of their male partners for 12 months or until they reported a pregnancy (whichever came first). The men and women in the study reported whether they’d been vaccinated against HPV and their age of vaccination. Crunching the numbers, the researchers found that there was little overall association between the vaccine and difficulties and delays in becoming pregnant. Additionally, although sexually transmitted infections, in general, are associated with infertility, women who had been vaccinated as girls had the same chance of getting pregnant as unvaccinated women who had never had a sexually transmitted infection.
“Our study found no adverse effects of HPV vaccination on fertility,” according to one of the researchers, Boston University School of Public Health doctoral candidate Kathryn McInerney, in a comment reported by Science Daily. In addition, McIninerney noted that the vaccine may even go so far as to increase the odds of conceiving for those women who’ve had other sexually transmitted infections (STI), increasing their chances of getting pregnant to be on par with women who have never had an STI.
“Our study should reassure those who are hesitant to vaccinate,” McInerney says. And that may help to inspire more parents to have their children vaccinated before they become sexually active, which is when the vaccine is known to be effective. In fact, the HPV vaccine is FDA-approved only for patients up to and including age 26, although there is some argument for vaccinating older patients, provided they have not yet become sexually active.
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