By Julia Redemske
If you have ever had sex, there’s a good chance that you belong to the majority of the United States population that have Human Papillomavirus. And you may not even know you have it.
HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that is the major cause of cervical cancer in women. The new Nurse Practitioner for Flagler College, Georgiann Weaver, said, “The research right now shows that between 80 to 90 percent of women that have ever had intercourse with a man are already infected with HPV.”
About 3,700 women will die from cervical cancer in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society. However, that number may be going down due to a new vaccine recently approved by the FDA called Gardasil.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV — some cause cervical cancer and others may have outward effects such as genital warts. Most strains of HPV don’t have any noticeable symptoms at all.
Merck, the pharmaceutical company producing Gardasil, states on their Web site that the new vaccine prevents the infection of four high risk strains of HPV that “together cause approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers and 90 percent of genital warts.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Studies have found the vaccine to be almost 100 percent effective in preventing diseases caused by the four HPV types covered by the vaccine — including pre-cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and genital warts.”
Although an HPV awareness campaign has been launched and many may have seen the commercials on TV, the majority of female Flagler College students who were asked about HPV and the new vaccine felt uninformed and unable give an opinion for it or against it because they didn’t know enough about the subject to make that choice.
Some individuals and activist groups have expressed concern for the influence this new vaccine will have on the sexual promiscuity of women who get the shots. Others question the credibility of vaccines in general.
“They tend to make mistakes with new [vaccines],” said Maggie Goller, Flagler College senior. “And I don’t really feel safe getting part of a vaccine that could be partially harmful to me.”
However, Flagler College sophomore Elizabeth Tuzzolo thinks any vaccine is good. “My mom, and myself and my sister have all gotten it,” she said.
A series of three shots are all that’s needed so far to be vaccinated with Gardasil. The shots are administered in the arm and are spaced out over a six-month period. The second shot is given two months after the first and the last shot four months after that. Main side effects of the vaccine include a sore arm (from the shots) and fever.
According to the American Cancer Society, without the vaccine, condoms reduce the infection rate of HPV by 70 percent. However, this virus is transferred through skin-to-skin contact so if the infection is present beyond the condom cover, it can be passed along.
Gardasil is for girls and women ages 9 to 26 years old and works best when given before having come in contact with certain types of HPV.
“It’s fantastic,” said Holly Doucette, resident nurse at Flagler College, “a medical breakthrough!”
The vaccine is used only to prevent four types of HPV and cannot treat an existing infection. However if someone has already been tested positive for HPV, the vaccine can still be administered because it may prevent the infection of other strains that have not yet been contracted.
Most insurance companies will cover the vaccine, but not all pharmacies have the shots in stock. Flagler College students can visit the nurse’s office for a prescription and return with the shots for them to be administered by a nurse.
Weaver can write prescriptions for Gardasil and will be on-campus every Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., preferably by appointment.