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Presentations about cervical cancer prevention possible at area schools

Presentations and vaccinations for the human papillomavirus, a cause of cervical cancer, and the vaccine Gardasil may be coming to the Mott-Regent and Scranton schools later this year.

The presentations put on by Community Action of Dickinson and West River Health Services, will be considered by Scranton Public School this month and by Mott-Regent schools next month at their board meetings.

HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease, is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted and can infect the genital area of men and women, according to North Dakota Department of Health information.

Gardasil, a three-dose cervical cancer vaccine, helps protect against 4 types of HPV, 2 types that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and two more types that cause 90 percent of genital warts cases, according to Gardasil information.

Denise Andress, Community Health Manager for West River Health Services in Hettinger, said the first presentation was given in 2007 as a pilot program at Hettinger High School through a grant by the North Dakota Cancer Coalition.

"It was a very short grant, about six months," Andress said. "We do education and awareness to parents, school-age children, administration and staff. We piloted it first in Hettinger just because this has never ever been done before, and it was just an idea I had to write a grant. With the new Gardasil vaccine there was very little information to our parents and our schools about how important it was to vaccinate girls at a younger age before they could possibly get HPV in their 20s and 30s when they could get cervical cancer."

In addition to the presentations, Andress and West River Health Services offered a vaccination clinic in the school so that girls could receive the three-shots for the vaccine. Approximately 35 girls received the shots in Hettinger, Andress said.

Although both presentations and vaccine clinics are available to be held in the schools, Andress said it's really up to the school to decide.

Molly Sander, program manager for the Immunization Program division of the North Dakota Department of Health, said the state doesn't track cases of HPV.

"HPV is not a reportable condition like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea where we get every single case reported to us," Sander said. "HPV is so prevalent and it is difficult to test for it, and there are many different strains so we don't have a case count, so we usually just use national statistics."

Sander said in statistics they study, in the U.S. for HPV it is estimated that at least half of men and women have some type of HPV infection in their lives.

Andress said she makes it a point to be very honest about the virus and the vaccine to parents and kids, and believes that the education and awareness coincides with what is being taught in health classes.

"We always tell the kids that their parents want them safe, they want them happy and they want them healthy, and if they have any concerns their parents want to be able to help them," Andress said. "What I tell parents is that it's optional, they have the ultimate decision in making that decision for their family. I see my job as giving you that information so that you can make an educated decision. I really put myself out there as a parent to answer the questions from parents."

"The vaccine is just the same as any other childhood vaccine," Andress said. "The benefits are more important than the risks involved. It is a pretty touchy subject, but sometimes we just have to come out and talk about them no matter how hard it is sometimes."

Andress will be presenting information to the Mott-Regent school board at their Feb. 10 meeting in Regent, beginning at 7 p.m.