The Daily Mail is reporting on a mysterious illness that sickened 240 girls in the town of El Carmen de Bolivar who suffered symptoms ranging from fainting to numbness to headaches.
Francisco Vega, a physician who also serves as the town's mayor, told the Associated Press that the illness first appeared around the end of May but has been steadily increasing ever since. On one particular weekend, 120 girls were rushed to the hospital which all but collapsed the town's limited medical facilities. None of the girls were suffering serious symptoms and have since been released.
Authorities are unable to say what caused the sudden illness in the girls, who range in age from nine to 16, but parents say they all have one thing in common - they all received the Gardasil vaccine in recent months.
Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria denied any link between the girls' illness and the vaccine and blamed the media for stirring panic.
"On one side we have the weight of scientific evidence and on the other are opinions and moral prejudices," he told said during a radio interview, adding that cervical cancer claims the lives of more than 3,000 women every year in Colombia.
However, the symptoms the girls are presenting are suspiciously similar to those reported by the Centers for Disease Control whose published data from 2009 showed that adolescent girls and women between the ages of nine to 26 who were injected with the vaccine reported symptoms of dizziness, numbness, nausea, headaches and autoimmune disorders.
Veronica Trulin, who is the head of communications in Latin America for Merck, said all lots of the vaccines used in Colombia meet required quality and safety standards.
Parents are insisting that the matter be looked into with many of the town's 95,000 residents staging a peaceful march to demand a thorough investigation.
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