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Most people don’t think about the risks of sexually transmitted viruses in pre-teenage children. However, officials say girls as young as nine years old should be vaccinated against these potential health dangers. KSMU’s Theresa Carter spoke with local experts to find out more about a new, and sometimes controversial, method of defense for young girls.
It’s estimated that approximately 3600 women die each year due to cervical cancer. Most types of cervical cancer are a result of one or more strains of the Human Papillomavirus, more commonly knows as HPV. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 100 strains of this virus and 30 of those are sexually transmitted. None of these various strains appears to pose long term health risks to men, but they can have severe long term implications for women.
Gardasil was approved by the FDA in 2006, for use on young girls as an aid to cut down on the risks of HPV. Kendra Williams, administrator of community health and epidemiology talks about the benefit of protecting early.
"Gardasil itself, will protect against the spread of 70% of HPV types which cause cervical cancer, and 90% of those which cause genital warts. If we can get those at the lower end; the 9 yr old range, we can protect girls before they experience any sexual activity in their lives."
The Gardasil vaccine is not recommended for women who have already been exposed to HPV, since it only works to prevent the disease. Transmission of the disease occurs not only through sexual intercourse, but also intimate skin-to-skin contact.
Gardasil is administered in a three round booster, and is recommended before girls become sexually active. However, Williams cautions that being vaccinated against HPV does not mean a person can ignore good common sense practices, or preventative health care.
"I would encourage all young women to get their pap smears every year to make sure they're healthy, even though they get the Gardasil series."
Some parenting groups have expressed concerns about giving a vaccine for an STD to pre-teen girls. The cost of the vaccine is approximately $135.00 per dose, and is covered by most private insurance as well as Medicaid. Williams suggests calling the local health department, or researching online for more information. A link to more information is at: www.cdc.gov.
West Side Public Health Clinic Office in Springfield is (417) 874-1220.
For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Carter.