(Reuters Health) – A new study complements earlier evidence that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine does not make girls less cautious about having sex.

HPV is transmitted during sexual activity. When the British province of British Columbia decided to vaccinate all teenage girls against HPV, some parents were concerned that this would lead to more children taking risky sexual behaviors.

But vaccinated girls may be less likely to have sex younger, less likely to have more sexual partners, and less likely to ignore safe sex methods, the new study suggests.

"When we ran the program over a decade ago, there were three major issues: would the vaccine be effective, would it be safe, and could it affect sexual health?" Said co-author Dr. Gina Ogilvie, a professor at the University of British Columbia and a senior health scientist at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control. "But the girls continued to make very safe sexual health decisions, in fact, they actually made better choices, so parents can be reassured that the HPV vaccine does not make young girls make bad sexual choices."

HPV infections usually disappear by themselves, but sometimes persist and can cause certain cancers.

British Columbia introduced a state-funded HPV vaccine program in girls' schools in 2008. To investigate the program's implications, Ogilvie and her colleagues looked at three groups of British Columbia Adolescent Health Surveys conducted by students in grades 7 to 12 – those conducted in 2003 and 2008 – that included responses from previous years the HVP vaccine program. These responses were compared to responses in a 2013 survey five years after the program began.

As reported in CMAJ, 302,626 self-identified heterosexual girls were included in the surveys. The proportion of girls who had ever reported sex was 18.3 percent in 2013, compared to 21.3 percent in 2003 and 20.6 percent in 2008. In addition, the proportion of girls before the age of 14 fell Sex had between 2008 and 2013 from 13 percent to 10.2 percent, and the use of condoms rose from 63.3 percent in 2008 to 68.9 percent in 2013.

Although the study was conducted in Canada, its findings are likely to apply to the US as well. Anna-Barbara Moscicki, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Adolescent Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles.

In fact, Moscicki said, "There is another recent work that shows in the US that vaccinated teens do not initiate sex more often."

Ogilvie was unwilling to speculate on why girls appeared to make healthier sexual choices following the introduction of the HPV vaccine program.

But it is quite possible that doctors sometimes use sex for vaccination, said Susan Rosenthal, director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Health, Irving Medical Center, New York University / Presbyterian / Columbia, New York City.

"There is fairly consistent evidence from the US that when adolescents provide information about contraception and condoms, they reduce sexual risk-taking, delay sexual initiation, and when they have sex they use protection," Rosenthal said.

Although it is not known if there was a bit of sex with the HPV recordings in British Columbia, vaccination time can be a good opportunity to start a conversation, Rosenthal said. "Often, parents and others do not know how to bring the topic to the table," she added. "The HPV vaccine may give you a chance to talk to families."

SOURCE: bit.ly/2q1Ae21 CMAJ, online October 15, 2018.

This story was rewritten to correct the spelling of HPV in the headline

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