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Neglected prevention

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A few years ago, TVs were covered with active teens and young adults playing sports, attending school events and socializing with friends. These commercials were for the Gardasil vaccine marketed toward girls and women ages 11 to 26 in hopes of preventing the human papilloma virus (HPV). The controversial vaccine is now being marketed toward young men for identical reasons despite the fact that many young adults are choosing to not become vaccinated.

HPV is a common sexual transmitted infection (STI) that affects the genitals. More than 40 types of HPV can be transmitted through sexual genital contact and can also affect the mouth and throat. The disease can be passed on to other partners although the carrier may not show any symptoms and one can be infected for years and may not be aware. This STI causes cervical cancer, genital warts and other forms of cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and about 14 million people become newly infected each year. Every year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,000 women die from this disease in the U.S.

With a great amount of infections linked to young adults, Gardasil, which was released in 2006, has turned their “one less” motto for women into one that includes males. The vaccine is the only of its kind to be tested and licensed for male use.

Debra Carter-Miller, family medicine specialist at Mapleton Medical Center said she initially disagreed with the vaccine.

“I thought we should be doing more training for young women, but now since I’ve seen so many cases of cervical cancer, we find it very difficult to treat. If the vaccine will prevent it, I am all in favor,” Carter-Miller said.

She also questions whether or not the vaccine is effective since HPV numbers remain high.

“I’m not seeing a decrease in HPV,” said Carter-Miller who has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. “I’m seeing a decrease in cervical cancer because of screenings. I don’t think it’s because of the vaccine. Our routine screenings for HPV during pap smears has resulted in a decrease.”

The Gardasil vaccine blocks four types of strands causing cervical cancer and genital warts, which are strands six, 11,15 and 18. Patients are asked to receive the vaccination as early as 11 years old in three injections within six months.

Since 2006, other similar vaccinations have been released, such as Cervarix, which promises the same protection from only strands 16 and 18, and have been debated based on its effectiveness.

Past reports feature parents questioning whether the side effects of vaccines such as Gardasil are worth the protection. Young women have experienced rashes, chronic fatigue and the development of autoimmune diseases after they have been given Gardasil. Although some effects may be extreme, doctors aren’t able to link many of the patient’s conditions to the drug.

While most insurance plans cover the vaccine, experts say it is extremely underutilized.

“It is disappointing that despite a slight increase in HPV vaccination since 2012, overall HPV vaccination among adolescents remains low,” said John Jennings, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Widespread adoption of the HPV vaccine has the potential to dramatically lower cervical cancer rates among women; according to some estimates, for every year that adoption does not increase, an additional 4,400 women will develop cervical cancer. With each year that passes, we are losing an opportunity to prevent cancer in American women. This is unacceptable.”

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