Health department advocates early HPV vaccination

The Marshall County Public Health Department has joined in a statewide effort to increase the vaccination rate of Iowa teens and pre-teens against viruses known to cause genital warts and cancer.

In Marshall County, 38 percent of females and 20 percent of males have received the three doses of the vaccine necessary to protect against the most common types of human papillomavirus, or HPV.

That is a number the health department would like to increase.

“Some people may not think it (vaccination) is important,” said Pat Thompson, Marshall County Public Health nurse.

But certain high-risk strains of HPV can cause cancer, she noted.

That is the message of a new campaign initiated by the Iowa Department of Public Health, or IDPH.

The “You are the Key” campaign encourages Iowa parents to vaccinate their children, ideally in early adolescence. Doing so allows for immunity to develop and offers better protection as a child matures.

Marshall County was awarded grant dollars to promote vaccination through public education, especially of children ages 11-18.

A billboard promoting vaccination is visible near Player Street in Marshalltown.

HPV is so common that almost everyone will be infected at some point in their lives.

Most infections with high-risk HPVs do not cause cancer, and many infections go away on their own within 1-2 years, according to the National Cancer Institute.

However, high-risk strains that last for several years increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, including cervical, anal, vaginal, vulvar, penile and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.

Infected individuals can also spread the virus even when they do not display symptoms.

The HPV vaccine protects against the strains of HPV responsible for about 90 percent of cervical cancers and 85 percent of anal cancers.

The IDPH recommends both boys and girls receive three doses of vaccine for protection against those strains.

Because some HPVs are sexually transmitted and lead to the development of genital warts, correct and consistent use of condoms can also reduce transmission between sexual partners, according to the institute.

There is no medical treatment for HPV infections, but genital warts and precancerous lesions resulting from infections can be treated.

About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV, according to the IDPH. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. Approximately 33,000 HPV-associated cancers occur annually, including 12,600 HPV-associated cancers in males.

Thompson encourages individuals interested in receiving the vaccine to contact their health provider.

Some insurances will not pay for certain vaccines, including HPV, she noted.

Children who qualify for the federally funded Vaccines for Children program may receive HPV vaccines at no cost through Marshall County Public Health.

Thompson said individuals seeking information about HPV vaccination should contact her at 641-754-6353.

Public health nurses will also be available to answer questions at the Healthy Family Fair on Feb. 28 at the Marshalltown Mall.