Fidelity Is No Solution « The Washington Independent
Illustration by: Matt Mahurin
A new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases shows that fidelity is no protection when it comes to the virus that causes cervical cancer. As Merck & Co. was releasing its human papilloma virus vaccine in 2006, some warned against giving it to adolescent girls, saying it sent a message of tolerance of immoral sex. Although some conservative religious groups like the Family Research Council have moderated their positions since then, their guidance on the vaccine still stresses that “abstaining from sexual activity is the surest way to prevent infection.” And they are right. Abstain from genital contact with anyone for your whole life, and you have virtually no chance of contracting HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
But having one partner, it turns out, is not nearly as good protection as some on the Christian right would like to believe. The authors of the Journal of Infectious Diseases study found that virgins entering a sexual relationship had a 28.5 percent chance of contracting a human papilloma virus infection after a year of monogamous sexual contact. Three years into the relationship, the risk was increased to 50 percent. The rates are lower, of course, when both partners are virgins entering the relationship, and remain faithful. The data indicates how often this occurs in the real world.
About one quarter of all HPV infections are caused by two cancer-causing strains, HPV 16 and 18. The Merck vaccine, Gardasil, guards against these and two other strains that cause genital warts. Cervical cancer each year kills about 3,500 American women and hundreds of thousands in poor countries where there are no regular gynecological examinations.
Merck in 2006 touted Gardasil aggressively, pushing states to quickly mandate the vaccine for 6th graders. This misguided policy led to a backlash, in which arguments about the immorality of vaccination were mixed in with more logical concerns about vaccinating millions of kids with a relatively untried vaccine. The vaccine has been on the market a while, now, though, and there are so far no indications that it’s unsafe. Except, apparently, to some world views.