A small town in northern Colombia has been blindsided by a odd and mysterious illness, causing more than 200 girls between the ages of 9 and 16 to come down with symptoms like fainting, numbness in the hands, and headaches. While some are deeming it a case of mass hysteria, parents are demanding an investigation as all of the girls had recently been injected with Gardasil.
The first cases of this mysterious illness surfaced at the end of May in El Carmen de Bolivar, Colombia, and has been increasing since—last weekend 120 young girls were rushed to the hospital, completely overwhelming the small town's medical facilities. All the girls have since been released. According to both the town mayor and Colombian health and toxicology experts investigating the situation, nothing suggests there are ties to Gardasil, which guards against four strains of HPV.
Colombia's health minister Alejandro Gaviria has decried the media hype surrounding the illness and its potential link to the vaccine. Via AP:
"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 cervical cancer claims the lives of more than 3,000 women every year in Colombia.
Gardasil manufacturer Merck's head of communication in Latin America has maintained that all lots of the vaccine meet the quality and safety standards, saying "We don't comment on speculation about our products." Also, fainting and headaches are listed as common side effects of the vaccine on Gardasil's website, though I'm not sure about the numbness.
While health experts (and probably Merck) investigates what's going on, our anti-vaxxer friends are sure to have a field day with this one. Meanwhile, the rest of us will wait for a vaccine that contains HPV strains other than the handful that most commonly affect white women.
Image via Getty.