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Advocating protection against cervical cancer

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Autumn


“This is my favorite topic,” said Laura Koutsky, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Koutsky was referring to two human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, both of which protect women against cervical cancer, a disease that claims 250,000 lives a year worldwide. Merck’s Gardasil was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June 2006, while GlaxoSmith-Kline filed for approval for its vaccine, Cervarix, in March 2007. Koutsky’s research on the HPV vaccine is supported by funds from Merck.

Koutsky gave an overview of the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity profile of the prophylactic HPV vaccines during a talk at the School of Medicine in April. Noting that HPV is highly contagious and widespread (in one study 28 percent of test subjects who had only one sexual partner became infected with genital HPV within 12 months), Koutsky recommended that the vaccines, which have been found to be successful in preventing infections, be “widely used and widely available.”

Ideally, girls should be inoculated before they become sexually active. To parents uncomfortable with this recommendation, Koutsky said, “Teach your values,” but also advised, “Children need age-appropriate protection from the consequences of sexually transmitted infections, and despite evidence to the contrary, most want their parents’ help.”

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