The Richland County Health Department is seeking to educate local parents and youth about the human papillomavirus (HPV).
A grant from the North Dakota Cancer Coalition will aid public health officials with education and increasing vaccination rates countywide.
“We are implementing school-based immunization clinics,” said Miranda Andel, R.N. “The kids are able to receive the vaccine right at school if they are eligible.”
The health department knows youth and parents are busy, said Andel and Carol Lee, R.N. and immunization coordinator. The idea is to allow clinics to come to youth before the other way around.
Human papillomavirus is a common virus, spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The virus can lead to any of six types of cancer later in a person’s life. Cancers may be diagnosed in the mouth, throat, cervix, penis, vagina, vulva or anus and may also include contracting genital warts.
“HPV infections are so common that nearly all men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives,” according to information provided by the health department.
About 80 million Americans are currently infected with some type of HPV, healthcare officials say. Each year, nearly 14 million Americans including teens become infected with the virus.
“The vaccine can be given to youth as young as age nine,” Lee said.
Healthcare organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all youth receive two doses of the vaccine by ages 11-12. The idea is to ensure protection long before any individual is ever exposed to the virus.
A better immune response occurs when the vaccine is given at a younger age, according to the health department. Local officials say it’s a matter of the sooner, the better.
“For example, when in a car, at what point do you have your child place their seat belt?” Lee asked. “Before the car moves, while the car is moving, or if or when there is an accident?”
January is cervical health month, which Andel said allows the health department the opportunity to raise awareness for women on how to protect themselves from HPV.
“This includes getting the HPV vaccination and getting regular screenings for cervical cancer,” she said.
Andel, Lee and the Richland County Health Department want to share their message with parents and guardians of all adolescent and teenage youth. “We want the parents to be educated about the importance of receiving the only cancer-preventing vaccination,” Andel said.
The health department is located on the second floor of the Richland County Law Enforcement Center, 413 Third Ave. N. in Wahpeton. For more information, call 701-642-7735.