HPV virus discussed in open forum

Amanda Hayes

An estimated 20 million Americans are currently infected, but there is no cure for this disease. It is usually symptom-free, but has been linked to cancer and is potentially fatal. Almost 4,000 women will die of the virus this year. Who knew three little letters could be so scary?

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted infection that at least 80 percent of women will acquire by age 50, according to the Center for Disease Control Web site. University chief physician Ray Leone said there are more than 100 types of the HPV virus, including several “high-risk” strains which cause most cases of cervical cancer.

Fortunately, a vaccine is available to prevent the cancer-causing strains of the virus. The Gardasil vaccine is offered at the Health Center and is covered by about 50 percent of insurance companies, said Mary Reeves, University Health Services Director. However, the vaccination is not covered by the university’s Student Health Insurance policy.

Last night, Eta Sigma Gamma held an open forum on the HPV virus and the addition of Gardasil to the Student Insurance plan.

Colin Dean, president of Eta Sigma Gamma, said he organized the event because college women are most susceptible to the disease. Dean said HPV is the most common STD in the nation, and he said recent polls found more than 70 percent of Kent State students do not regularly practice safe sex.

“Kent State students do not regularly use protection during sexual contact, and are therefore at an increased risk for HPV infection,” Dean said. “If there is a vaccine that can protect Kent State students, is it not a moral duty to expand access to it?”

The Gardasil vaccine is given in three increments over the span of several months. For uninsured students, each shot costs $150 – a total of $450.

Reeves said the addition of the vaccine is controversial because it will raise insurance premiums for all students – $200-$300 at a minimum.

“We need to hear from students who currently pay for university health insurance … This is a very difficult choice and we need to have a comprehensive dialogue before we make a decision,” Reeves said.

Reeves said a final decision on the inclusion of the vaccine will be made by early February. Students currently covered by Student Health Insurance and those seeking treatment at the Health Center will also be asked for input.

“We are very happy that students are initiating these meetings,” Reeves said of the forum. “There were a lot of great questions tonight.”

Though there were several empty chairs in the Governance Chambers at last night’s forum, Dean said he was happy with the outcome.

“It wasn’t the quantity, it was the quality,” he said.

Students can find more information on HPV and other STDs at the University Health Center or the Center for Disease Control Web site. The Health Center will also be offering anonymous HIV testing free of cost next month.

– Amanda Hayes