The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported most states are making only minimal gains in vaccinating teenagers against Human papillomavirus - the sexually transmitted, cancer-causing virus commonly called HPV.

There are a few exceptions - a handful of states are already doing a pretty good job. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters during a July conference call that South Carolina tops this list, which also included Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

"These individual states had increases (in HPV coverage) ranging from 12 percentage points in Illinois to 18.5 percent in South Carolina," Schuchat said. Nationally, states averaged only a 3.5 percent increase in vaccination coverage among teens between 2012 and 2013.

"It is a relief that we did not continue to have flat lining HPV coverage in 2013," she said. "You may recall there was absolutely no improvement from 2011 to 2012. The increase we did see in the 2013 results was quite small at the national level. We looked intensively to see if there were any more encouraging signs, and as I had said, we were disappointed with the overall findings."

Experts at the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center estimate that only half of teenage girls ages 13 to 17 and only 20 percent of teenage boys in the same age range have received all three doses of the HPV vaccine in South Carolina.

The CDC estimates there are 14 million new HPV infections every year. It is "most often acquired in people in their teens and 20s," Schuchat said, which is why experts believe vaccinating teenagers before they become sexually active is the most effective way to prevent HPV from spreading.

The virus is commonly associated with cervical cancer, but can also cause a variety of other cancers in both men and women.

An initiative called Cervical Cancer Free SC, cofounded by researchers at MUSC and the University of South Carolina, is attempting to raise awareness about the vaccine's benefits. The new CDC data suggests that the campaign is working.

"We are excited to see that our efforts to educate the public on the need to protect our children from a variety of cancers with the HPV vaccine is making a difference in South Carolina," said Dr. Jennifer Young Pierce, an MUSC obstetrician and gynecologist, in a prepared statement. "However, there is much more to be done . We can do better."

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.