Doctors stress need for people to get vaccinated against HPV

Having the talk about the HPV vaccine

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - As ArkLaTex students return to school for another year of learning, parents everywhere are working hard to keep their children healthy through vaccinations.

There's one vaccination, in particular, that doctors want parents to seriously study - Gardasil.

"I feel very strongly about encouraging parents to choose to get the Gardasil vaccine for their kids, both boys and girls," said Sharye Atchison, a Shreveport pediatrician.

Gardasil prevents the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection and a leading cause of cervical cancer.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) estimates that there are 14 million new infections annually and that 79 million of those involve people in their early and late 20s.

"The conversations about vaccines is an extremely important one to have with parents and kids," Atchison said.

"What a parent needs to know is that it's a vaccine that can prevent cancer that their kids could get as an adult, as a young adult, or as an adult when they're 60."

Dr. Joseph Bocchini, chairman of the pediatrics department at LSU Health Shreveport, recently was named as NFID's president.

"The vaccine is capable of reducing the incidence of cancer related to HPV by 90 percent," he said.

Bocchini stressed the importance of preventing HPV before it's too late.

"You don't put a seat belt on after you've had an accident; you put the seat belt on before.

"If you want to prevent something, you do it before it's likely to occur."

Louisiana law does not require students to receive an HPV vaccine prior to starting school.

However, the state has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the nation.

The national average is 7.5 cases per 100,000 people.

Northwest Louisiana's rate rests well above that number - at 10.5 cases, according to Louisiana Cancer Prevention.

"This vaccine is designed to prevent cancer," Bocchini explained.

"This {HPV} is a very common infection, and it happens to virtually everybody over time."

Atchison's fight to encourage parents to consider the HPV vaccine is personal.

"When you have a cancer diagnosis and you've got to turn around and tell your four small children, with the youngest being 3 at the time, it changes your world."

A dozen years ago, she was diagnosed with an advanced stage of cervical cancer onset by HPV.

"Going from the medical side to the patient side was very hard," Atchison said. "I had chemotherapy, and radiation and surgery."

As parents continue to vaccinate their children, both Bocchini and Atchison stress the importance of consulting with your physician about the benefits of the HPV vaccine.

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