HPV threatens females at University of Mississippi

By Tyler Kelly

Women attending The University of Mississippi may be more susceptible to HPV than they realize. Approximately 80 percent of sexually active people in the U.S. will contract HPV at some point in their lives. This sexually transmitted disease is most prevalent among females ages 20 to 24.

“It’s frightening to think that many girls have HPV and not know it,” said journalism major, Annabelle Knek.

Symptoms of HPV occur unpredictably ranging from years later to not at all. With over 100 types of HPV, there is no way to know who will later develop cancer or other health problems such as genital warts.

There are no tests for an HPV status.

After learning these facts, female students at UM had mixed reactions.

“That is very scary and concerning,” said integrated marketing communications major, Lindsey Munson who has already been vaccinated for HPV.

English major Lily Campbell, who is also vaccinated said, “I didn’t know that, but if everyone has it I guess I don’t feel too uncomfortable; but it’s worrying.”

The recommended ages for women to start receiving HPV vaccinations are 11 to 12 years old. However, few states legally require women attending school to get vaccinations for HPV. In 2015, only Virginia and Washington D.C. legally required the vaccination, while Rhode Island was soon to be added to the list.

“It was only two years ago,” said Campbell, who was not required by her state to be vaccinated. “My parents wouldn’t allow me to get it at a younger age.”

So how can women at UM get informed? Where can they go for a vaccination?

The V.B. Garrison Health Center, located on the UM campus is where students can receive the HPV vaccine Gardasil. (Photo by Tyler Kelly)

According to Becky Thompson, women’s health nurse practitioner at the UM V. B. Garrison Health Center, multiple female students visit her daily with questions.

“The number one reason is probably just the regular yearly physical exam,” said Thompson regarding why female students visit her. “For breast exams, pap smears, general well care. Probably, the really high up there is to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.”

The HPV vaccine Gardasil is available at Student Health Services which is located in the health center.

Gardasil is effective against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18. While six and 11 cause 90 percent of genital wart cases, 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. It is approved for females ages nine to 26.

According to the UM health center website, the vaccine requires three doses and currently costs $150 for each dose. The second dose should be received two months after the first, and the third dose six months after the first.

The Risk of Cervical Cancer

Even with the HPV vaccine, women from ages 21 to 65 are recommended to take the Pap test in order to find or prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the second leading cancer in women, and HPV accounts for 99.7 percent of all cervical cancer cases.

With screenings and treatment for cervical cancer, 4,000 women in the U.S. die each year. Over 250,000 women die from cervical cancer worldwide every year.

According to cancer.org, more than half of the women in the U.S. who get cervical cancer have never had or rarely had a Pap test.

There is a new case of cancer caused by HPV every 20 minutes. Men are also at risk of being diagnosed with cancer caused by HPV. Oropharyngeal cancers are the most common among men.

Twenty seven thousand men and women are diagnosed with HPV related cancers in the U.S. every year.

When asked, political science major, Drew Davis shared whether or not more should be done to raise awareness about HPV locally and nationally.

“Yes, I feel like most students don’t believe it’s a big deal, and if not made to get the shot by their parents, they won’t get it,” said Davis.

Although HPV is most common among college-aged women, there are students who have knowledge about the STD.

When asked, Knek said, “I am already informed about HPV, but it’s not something I ever really think about.”

For students who may not know much about STDs such as HPV, the health center as well as Health Promotion, an on-campus program dedicated to general wellness and sexual health, are just a couple of ways to get informed on campus.

“There are many ways in which we education students,” said assistant director for Health Promotion Erin Cromeans.

“Health Promotion provides outreach opportunities throughout the semester with our traveling health hut for Wellness Wednesday, including topics on consent, World Aids Day, STI prevention and more. We provide Wellness Road Trip presentations on the topic of STIs,” said Cromeans.

And what is most important for female students to know about their health?

“I would say the number one thing to know is that they need to be protective of their female health,” said Thompson.

“If they’re in sexual relationships they need to understand that taking birth control is pregnancy prevention. It does not provide you safety from sexually transmitted infections so in this age group, 18 to 25, probably the most damaging thing they can do to their reproductive health is be re-infected, over, and over and over again with sexually transmitted infections.”