Gardasil is a vaccination that is being used routinely in males and females aged around 9 to 12 years, before they become sexually active.
Gardasil offers protection against human papillomma virus (HPV) infections. These HPV infections are relatively common and affect almost all individuals who are sexually active at some point in their lives.
In the majority of cases, the infections resolve independently without causing any symptoms. This makes the infection a major public health problem as the virus is unknowingly passed between sexual partners.
Certain strains of HPV are associated with an increased risk of developing cervical cancer, vulvar and vaginal cancer, genital warts, precancerous lesions of the cervix, anal cancer, oropharyngeal cancers and throat cancer.
Gardasil offers protection against some of the most virulent strains of HPV, namely HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. Estimates suggest that HPV 6 and 11 cause up to 90% of genital wart cases, while types 16 and 18 account for up to 70% of cervical cancer cases.
One aspect of the Gardasil vaccine that is currently being explored is whether it can provide protection in the long term. Since the vaccine has only been used for a few years, it is not yet known whether it can provide long-term immunity or lifelong immunity.
Many more studies will need to be conducted over the coming years to understand the long-term effects of this vaccine and the role it can play in preventing sexually transmitted disease.
Gardasil was initially targeted at females only since they are more likely to suffer from long-term consequences such as cervical, vulvar or vaginal cancers.
Now, however, studies have shown that males may also benefit from vaccination. Gardasil protects men (especially homosexual men) against HPV strains that cause genital warts, anal cancer and throat cancer.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc