In light of Cervical Health Awareness Month, the Michigan Department for Community Health is stressing the importance of HPV vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is responsible for 99 percent of cervical cancers, but vaccination rates still remain low, said Angela Minicuci, public information officer for the health department. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection.
Roughly 79 million Americans are infected with HPV, and each year, about 14 million more people are infected, according to the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”: http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm.
HPV is just as prevalent on campus, making vaccination a proactive decision for students, sexually active or not, Director of Student Health Services Glynda Moorer said.
Data from the 2012 National College Health Assessment indicated that 1.4 percent of MSU students have HPV and 32.2 percent of students were vaccinated.
“We do see (cases of HPV),” Moorer said. “We encourage women to get the vaccine.”
HPV is transmitted through genital contact during oral sex and sexual intercourse with a person who is infected, said Minicuci. There are more than 100 strains of HPV, some causing genital warts and some risking cervical cancer.
Some cases of HPV are resolved without treatment, and some others develop into cervical cancer or genital warts, but most are preventable through vaccination, Minicuci said.
There are no treatments for HPV, but within a few years the immune system typically rids itself of the virus, she said.
Apart from genital warts, HPV is largely symptomless, making prevention and screening all the more important, Minicuci said.
Moorer said many aren’t vaccinated because they’re concerned about how safe it is or because they’re unable to afford it. But the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil, the most common HPV vaccination, and the Affordable Care Act extends coverage to HPV vaccinations, she said.
“(Students) should know it’s a safe vaccine,” Moorer said. “We want to encourage it, especially now that it’s covered by most insurances.”
Vaccinations are a series of three shots which must be received within six months, Minicuci said. It is recommended for men and women younger than 26 years old, but it is most effective when received between the ages of 11-12, she added.