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War on warts being won

03 May 2013

Australia is well advanced in the battle to eliminate genital warts following the establishment of a nationwide human papillomavirus vaccination program.

A study in the British Medical Journal has identified a sharp slide in rates of genital wart infections since the HPV vaccine was first introduced in 2007.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales, the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and the University of Melbourne’s School of Population Health found that the proportion of women diagnosed with genital warts plunged from between 8.9 per cent and 9.6 per cent between 2004 and 2007, to just 2.7 per cent in 2011, while the percentage of men with the infection slid from almost 12 per cent I 2007 to 7.4 per cent in 2011.

Even more striking was the downturn in the rate of infection among women younger than 21 years, from 11.5 per cent in 2007 to just 0.85 per cent in 2011 – a fall of almost 93 per cent.

The result is seen as a stunning endorsement of the effectiveness of the decision in 2007 to begin one of the world’s first national HPV immunisation programs for girls.

“The greatest decline in the proportion of women diagnosed as having genital warts was seen in the youngest age group, under 21 years, and all these women were eligible for the free quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine” the researchers said.

The findings lend weight to the Government’s decision in mid-2012 to extend the HPV vaccination program to boys, the first such initiative in the world.

The study’s results suggest the virus could be all but eliminated for all proactical purposes within a generation.

“The study shows that the proportion of young women diagnosed as having genital warts has continued to decline since the vaccination program started in 2007,” the authors said. “Less than 1 per cent of women aged under 21 years presenting at sexual health services were found to have genital warts in 2011, compared with 10.5 per cent in 2006, before the vaccination program started. By 2011, no genital warts were diagnosed in women aged under 21 who reported being vaccinated.”


Image by Pulmonary Pathology on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence

Published: 03 May 2013