Girls in Colombian town struck by mystery illness

August 28, 2014 by Joshua Goodman

A mystery illness has overwhelmed a small town in northern Colombia as scores of teenage girls have been hospitalized with symptoms that parents fear could be an adverse reaction to a popular vaccine against cervical cancer.

Authorities say they still don't know what caused more than 200 girls in El Carmen de Bolivar to come down with symptoms ranging from fainting to numbness in the hands and headaches. Some have hinted that the town of 95,000 near Colombia's Caribbean coast could be experiencing a rare case of .

Parents are on edge however because all the girls, ranging in ages from 9 to 16, were injected in recent months with the Gardasil. On Wednesday, residents marched peacefully to demand a thorough investigation.

Francisco Vega, the town's mayor and a trained physician, told The Associated Press that illnesses first appeared at the end of May and have been steadily increasing since. Over the weekend 120 were rushed to hospitals, collapsing the town's limited medical facilities. None of their symptoms were life-threatening and all have since been released, he said.

Echoing the assurances of national health and toxicology experts, who have traveled to the town to collect blood samples and investigate possible environmental hazards, he said there's no evidence the vaccine, which has undergone extensive testing and regulation globally, is to blame.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria is criticizing hyped coverage by the media for stirring panic, saying concerns about their vaccine, which has been applied to 2.9 million women in Colombia, are baseless.

"On one side we have the weight of scientific evidence and on the other are opinions and moral prejudices," he told W Radio on Wednesday, adding the claims the lives of more than 3,000 women every year in Colombia.

Veronica Trulin, head of communications in Latin America for Merck, said all lots of the vaccine, including the ones sent to Colombia, meet all required quality and safety standards.

"We don't comment on speculation about our products," she said in an email.

Explore further: Report: Teen HPV vaccination rate still lagging

Related Stories

Report: Teen HPV vaccination rate still lagging

July 25, 2013
(AP)—Disappointed health officials say only about half of teenage girls have gotten a controversial vaccine against cervical cancer—a rate that's changed little in three years.

1 in 5 boys got HPV shot in first year recommended

August 29, 2013
A new report offers a first look at how many boys are getting shots designed to protect girls from cervical cancer. Health officials say the number getting vaccinated so far is a good start.

Men's immunity could be key to new malaria drugs

March 12, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A University of Alberta researcher's discovery about how malaria affects men could mean the difference between life and death for pregnant women in Colombia.

Lower HPV vaccination rates putting girls from ethnic minorities at risk of cancer

November 4, 2013
Girls from some ethnic minorities are less likely to be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer, according to new research presented at the National Cancer Research ...

Three doses of HPV vaccine recommended against genital warts

February 11, 2014
Two doses of vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) provide good protection against genital warts, but three doses is better according to an extensive register study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. ...

Early evidence of HPV vaccine impact

June 20, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- In a new study published in Lancet, researchers from Australia report evidence that the vaccine designed to target the human papillomavirus, or HPV, has dramatically dropped the incidence of lesions in Australian ...

Recommended for you

Novel approach to track HIV infection

August 18, 2017
Northwestern Medicine scientists have developed a novel method of tracking HIV infection, allowing the behavior of individual virions—infectious particles—to be connected to infectivity.

Faulty gene linked to obesity in adults

August 18, 2017
Groundbreaking new research linking obesity and metabolic dysfunction to a problem in the energy generators in cells has been published by researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University ...

Two lung diseases killed 3.6 million in 2015: study

August 17, 2017
The two most common chronic lung diseases claimed 3.6 million lives worldwide in 2015, according to a tally published Thursday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

New test differentiates between Lyme disease, similar illness

August 16, 2017
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. But it can be confused with similar conditions, including Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. A team of researchers led by Colorado ...

Addressing superbug resistance with phage therapy

August 16, 2017
International research involving a Monash biologist shows that bacteriophage therapy – a process whereby bacterial viruses attack and destroy specific strains of bacteria - can be used successfully to treat systemic, multidrug ...

Can previous exposure to west Nile alter the course of Zika?

August 15, 2017
West Nile virus is no stranger to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of people in the region have contracted the mosquito-borne virus in the past. But could this previous exposure affect how intensely Zika sickens someone ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.