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HPV vaccine available at RF clinic

December 7, 2006

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common STD in the United States. It is estimated that 50 percent of all sexually active men and women acquire some type of HPV in their lifetime. Statistics also show the majority of people infected with an STD are between the ages of 15 and 29, putting college students at the heart of the problem.

According to the American Social Health Association, there are 70 strains of the HPV virus, and 30 of them are sexually transmitted. Some types of genital HPV cause genital warts, while others are linked to abnormal changes in the cells of the female cervix. These abnormal changes are the No.1 cause of cervical cancer in women.

Often no symptoms are present after exposure to the virus.

“The only way to tell if someone has acquired HPV is if there is a presence of warts in the genital area or if a woman has an abnormal pap smear,” said Beth Shockey-Woll, a nurse practitioner at the River Falls Medical Clinic. “Even the abnormal pap smear does not necessarily mean that they have HPV.”

While HPV is a dangerous virus, it can go away on its own.

“In a typical healthy woman the virus will clear on its own within 18 to 24 months,” Nurse Practitioner Helen Butts said. “Sometimes it does lead to a number of different types of cancer.”

In June 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil — a vaccine that helps protect against the four most common and devastating strands HPV.

“It protects against cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, cancer of the vulva and genital warts,” Shockey-Woll said.

The vaccine is a series of three shots given throughout six months. It is recommended to women ages 9-26, and prevents some strains of HPV but doesn’t treat them. Those who have been exposed previously to HPV can still get the vaccine, and studies show it still protects against the other types of HPV that the vaccine fights.

Though Student Health Services does not pay for the vaccine, it is offered at the River Falls Medical Clinic.

“The vaccine costs around $120 a shot, and so far insurance companies have been very cooperative,” Shockey-Woll said. “We recommend that our patients check with their individual company before deciding to get the vaccine.”

Gardasil does not protect from all types of cervical cancers and doesn’t replace regular exams. It is important for women to continue to schedule yearly pap tests.

Some female students at UW-River Falls have contemplated getting the vaccine.

“I’ve had abnormal pap smears before, and I think that this is so awesome that people can actually be protected of it before they get it,” a female student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. “I most likely will get the vaccine.”

Senior Lindsay Schlosser also thinks it’s a good idea.

“I think that every girl should get this vaccine,” Schlosser said. “It protects them from so many types of cancer.”

Though HPV is the most common, other STDs can also be asymptomatic, causing those infected to possibly spread the disease without knowing.

“Nationwide the most common STDs are HPV, Chlamydia and Herpes,” Butts said. “In this area [River Falls], we see more Chlamydia than anything else.

She also said it is important for sexually active individuals to be responsible and informed about contracting and spreading STDs.

“Anyone who is 15 to 30 and not in a monogamous relationship should get tested for STDs regularly,” Butts said. “This will ensure them that if they do have an STD, they can get it treated properly before there are any other complications.”

Pierce County Reproductive Health and the River Falls Medical Clinic offer free STD testing to students at UWRF. The tests include HIV, Chlamydia and certain Herpes cultures. Though there is no specific test for HPV, they also offer free pap smears for women.

“Students should practice safe sex, including condoms and dental dams for oral sex,” Director of Student Health Services and Counseling Services Alice Reilly-Myklebust said. “All of these things are offered to students free through Student Health Services at Pierce County Reproductive Health and River Falls Medical Clinic.”

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