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One in ten females in Britain will contract a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV) before age 16, a new study found. The virus, generally contracted through sexual contact, can result in genital warts and is linked to the onset of cervical cancer later in life.
Administered by the United Kingdom’s Health Protection Agency (HPA), the study tested blood samples from females ages 10 to 29 who had antibodies indicating they had been infected with HPV. Research revealed that by age 18, one in five would contract HPV; by age 24, 40% of women would be infected by at least one strain of the virus.
The HPA reported that the risk of acquiring the virus sharply increases when girls turn 14—two years younger than the legal age of consent.
A vaccine exists for HPV, but it must be administered before puberty to be effective. The British government has been working on plans to begin vaccinating girls as young as 12, claiming this would save 700 lives per year.
Much controversy surrounds the vaccine (which is also publicly available in the United States). Those who oppose it say it will only increase promiscuity among young girls. But proponents claim inoculation will help to effectively curb the worsening STDs problem among teenagers and young adults.