McKinley Center offers HPV vaccinations

By Megan McNamara

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, has been all over the news recently, and for good reason: One in four U.S. women ages 14 to 59 have HPV, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 80 percent of women will be infected with the virus by age 50.

HPV is a common cause of sexually transmitted diseases. According to the CDC, in some cases the virus can form warts on various parts of the body, including the feet, hands and genitals. Some types of HPV that cause genital infections can also cause cervical cancer and other gynecological cancers.

“Not many people know you can get genital warts and cervical cancer from HPV,” said Mandy Vlcek, graduate assistant in McKinley Health Center’s Special Populations Health Education Unit.

In light of this, McKinley’s Special Populations’ Student Health Concerns Committee is presenting “Getting to Know HPV,” an informative panel discussion at 7 p.m. tonight in room 404 of the Illini Union.

The presentation will discuss things students can do to try to prevent HPV, including getting the much-buzzed-about vaccine.

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“Students can actually get the vaccine on campus, at McKinley,” Vlcek said. “It is approximately $100-120 per vaccine, and three vaccines are needed.”

There are over 100 different types of HPV, Vlcek said, and not all cause cervical cancer or genital warts. The vaccine prevents the four most common types of the highest-risk strains of HPV; two are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and two cause approximately 90 percent of genital warts.

Kim Rice, sexual health educator at McKinley, said HPV and cervical cancer are especially prevalent among minorities, who may not have access to health care and are unable to get a Pap smear, which can detect the presence of abnormal cells.

“That’s why getting the vaccine to low-income and minority women is so important,” Rice said. “And the best way to get them that vaccine is to require that all girls get the vaccination.”

There is controversy around mandating the vaccine. Many people think that by vaccinating young girls, there is an increased likelihood that they will have unprotected sex, even though research does not show this, Rice said.

She also said that the presentation will focus on the prevention of HPV primarily through the use of condoms, which can help prevent the most harmful strains of HPV.

“HPV is most detrimental when it affects the cervix,” Rice said. “And if the penis is covered with a condom when it comes into contact with the cervix, there is less likelihood that it (the cervix) will become infected.”

However, HPV is not only contracted through intercourse. It can also be contracted through genital to genital touching.

“It is more common to get it through intercourse because of penetration,” Vlcek said.

Though the majority of HPV infections resolve on their own and do not cause cervical cancer, it is important to get routine Pap smears, Vlcek said. When you have abnormal cells in the Pap smear, doctors will re-submit it for testing. If it looks suspicious, they will do a biopsy of the area.

“We want students to be educated and make smart decisions,” Vlcek said.