Primary Prevention: Human Papillomavirus and The Importance of Vaccination

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Congratulations to Toronto Caribbean Newspaper for receiving the award for “best print publication”.  It is such an honour to be able to write for this paper. I recently noticed a commercial with a young woman sitting in hospital room wishing she was anywhere else but there. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer due to HPV.  One of my most treasured readers, my mom requested that I write about Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Most HPV infections go unnoticed because they don’t cause any symptoms. The virus may have been contracted years ago and it can remain in the body for weeks, years or even a lifetime without showing any symptoms of an infection.

For those who experience symptoms, the type of symptoms depends on the type of HPV infection. Common warts are painless, firm growths with a rough surface and appear on the knees, face, fingers, and around the nails.  Flat warts are small, smooth warts appearing in clusters on the back of the hands, face or legs.  Plantar warts are those appearing on the soles of the feet. They can be painful because of their weight-bearing location on the feet. Filiform warts form long, thin projections around the eyes, face, and neck. Genital warts are small, cauliflower-shaped, or flat lesions. They occur on the genital areas including the vagina, cervix, vulva, penis, scrotum, and anus. They are usually painless but they can bleed, itch or have some discharge. Precancerous lesions or cervical dysplasia are abnormal cells in the cervix. These are painless and can only be detected with a Pap smear (a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix is collected by a healthcare professional).

The next step would be to seek medical attention.  Your healthcare professional will make a diagnosis of skin or genital warts based on a physical exam. Sometimes, your doctor may perform a biopsy (removal of a small tissue sample) to properly diagnose genital warts and eliminate other skin conditions that may be causing the symptoms. Any of the products used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are recommended. There are many treatments for warts and there are vaccines that have been approved for women and girls and boys and young men. 

Prevention is better than cure.  I remember when my daughter had to get the series of vaccines.  All of these vaccines really make you stop and think about what possible side effects there might be in the long term.  There is a very rigorous process that begins with Health Canada before a vaccine (a substance used to stimulate the production of antibodies and provide immunity against one or several diseases, prepared from the causative agent of a disease, its products, or a synthetic substitute, treated to act as an antigen without inducing the disease) is approved for wide distribution among the population because it is being administered to very large numbers of healthy people, including infants and children.  

In recent years many celebrities have come out proponing that there is a link between autism and vaccines. There has been an upsurge in the number of children who have not had the recommended vaccines as per the vaccine schedule.  Over the past two or three years I have read about an increase in measles in the GTA. How do we strike a balance between parents who feel strongly against immunization and the rights of others to be protected? Health Canada may need to put some effort in driving a public awareness campaign about this important element of primary prevention to ensure the populace is educated on the various types of vaccines and the importance of its protection from the spread of disease.  


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