According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the nation. It's estimated that 79 million individuals are currently infected with HPV, and 14 million new infections occur each year. In fact, the agency states that the STD is so widespread that nearly all sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
HPV can cause serious health problems, including genital warts and certain cancers. However, there are ways to prevent the virus, including a vaccine that is recommended for both females and males, especially those who have not yet become sexually active. The CDC recommends that females between the ages of 11 and 26 receive the vaccine, which is given in three separate doses.
While health officials have been recommending HPV vaccines for years, it's estimated that less than 20 percent of adolescent females receive it. Now, a new study proves that focusing on STD prevention, rather than cancer prevention, may motivate more young females to get vaccinated.
Researchers from Ohio State University and Texas Tech University recently conducted a study that included nearly 200 college-aged students as well as their mothers. Each participant received a packet of materials including a questionnaire and a pro-vaccine message. The student message recommended talking to a doctor about the HPV vaccine, and the parent message recommended encouraging their daughters to talk to a doctor. However, two messages were included for each group - one that stressed the vaccine could prevent cancer and the another that it could prevent genital warts.
According to responses on the questionnaires, the message emphasizing the vaccine's effectiveness at preventing genital warts was more likely to convince women to receive the immunization than the other.
"Preventing cancer was not a big motivator," said Janice Krieger, the study's lead author. "Young women don't respond strongly to the threat of cervical cancer. They seem to be more worried about getting an STD. That's the way we should try to encourage them to get the HPV vaccine."
The study's authors stated that previous investigations, aiming to increase vaccination rates, found that it was effective to emphasize its cancer prevention qualities. However, these studies often involved women of all ages, from adolescence to old age, and the vaccine is targeted to women under the age of 26.
"We decided to do a clean study that compared what message worked best with college-aged women versus what worked with their mothers," Krieger said.