BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, whose district includes parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, teamed up with the Florida Department of Health, Pinellas County to spread the word to citizens in south St. Petersburg about vaccinating their children against the deadly human papilloma virus, or HPV.
“If you could prevent your child from getting cancer, would you,” asked Castor. She went on to explain that you can prevent HPV related cancers if you vaccinate your boys and girls. The CDC recommends that you get the vaccine between the ages 11 and 12 when it’s most effective.
There are about 30 to 40 types of HPV that can affect the genital area. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 6 million new cases of genital HPV infections in the United States each year. It is estimated 74 percent of them occur in 15 to 24 year olds.
For most, HPV clears on its own. But, for others who don’t clear certain types, HPV could cause significant consequences: cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers in females. Other types could cause genital warts in both males and females. And there’s no way to predict who will or won’t clear the virus.
According to Castor, the State of Florida has some of the lowest HPV vaccination rates and in Pinellas County African-American females have some of the highest rates of cervical cancer. These rates are higher than the state and national average.
Director of the Florida Department of Health, Pinellas County, Claude Dharamraj, said that HPV is a fairly easy virus to contract and that it has no symptoms.
“The bad thing about it is, you don’t get sick with it, and if you don’t get sick with it you don’t know you have it,” she stated.
The vaccine is affordable. If you already have insurance you will pay a nominal fee, if you don’t have insurance it is free through the health department at every center throughout Pinellas County except the Largo location. They also have clinics at selected high schools, such as Northeast, Gibbs, Boca Ciega and soon at Pinellas Park High.
The vaccine is administered in three shots over six months, and should guard against HPV for life.