HANCOCK - Any sexually transmitted disease is a problem, but officials with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department are particularly concerned about one STD known to lead to cancer.
Dr. Teresa Frankovich, WUPHD medical director, said the human papillomavirus, or HPV, has been linked to almost all cervical cancers, and many other cancers in both males and females, including head, neck and genital cancers.
The vaccine for HPV is effective, Frankovich said, but there is much incorrect information about it being disseminated, including that it causes retardation, and the health department is conducting a campaign funded in part by a grant from the Michigan Cancer Consortium in Lansing, to heighten awareness about the vaccine to the public and to urge people to get it.
Barb Auten, health department director of public health, said the vaccine is given in three doses over six months.
Frankovich said health officials urge parents of children 11 and 12 years old to have their children vaccinated against HPV.
"The vaccine is most effective if they complete the series before they're sexually active," she said.
The vaccine can be given to people from 11 to 26 years old, Frankovich said.
"The earlier the better," she said. "There is proven benefit to give it through age 26. It's cancer prevention."
There are more than 40 strains of HPV, Frankovich said, and 90 percent of people who get one or more of them may not even be aware they're infected.
Even if people are infected, Frankovich said they should still get the vaccine to guard against infection from the other strains to which they haven't yet been exposed.
Frankovich said health officials know some parents are opposed to vaccines generally for various reasons, and some may be swayed by the inaccurate information about side effects of the HPV vaccine being disseminated, and that's why the health department is involved in the current informational campaign.
The HPV vaccine was approved for use in 2006, Frankovich said, but a relatively small percentage of people are taking it.
Besides taking informational fliers from the main office in Hancock to the other health department offices in Baraga, Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, Auten said staff are working, also, to get the information into local schools.
Although health department staff don't work directly with students, Auten said they will work with school wellness committees and reach out to parents to give them information about HPV and the vaccine.
"We're hoping to get one of our health educators in (the schools)," she said.
Frankovich said most health insurance will cover the cost of the HPV vaccine. For young adults who don't have insurance, health department staff can help them fill out a form from the vaccine manufacturer to get help them get it for free. There is a small fee for administering the vaccine.
To get more information about HPV or to get the vaccine, Frankovich said people should contact their health care provider, or call the health department at 482-7382.