Friday 31 October 2008

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) & Gardasil Vaccine

I rarely agree with anything the monkeys in suits that constitute our government do, but this rare case is the exception. The Government of Ontario with the Ontario Ministry of Health have put together a program to educate and immunize appropriate citizens against infection with the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV.

Some Science First;

Papillomaviruses were first identified in the early 20th century, when it was shown that skin warts or papillomas, could be transmitted between individuals by a filterable infectious agent. In 1935 Francis Peyton Rous, who had previously demonstrated the existence of a cancer-causing Sarcoma virus in chickens, went on to show that a papillomavirus could cause skin cancer in infected rabbits. This was the first demonstration that a virus could cause cancer in mammals. Since then over a 100 different human papillomaviruses have been identified. Some cause benign wart or papillomas, after which the virus is named, but some 30-40 of these strains can be transmitted through sexual contact. Many of these infecting virus strains don’t cause any noticeable symptoms until greater problems arise, most notably, cervical cancer.

The papillomaviruses are non-enveloped, 60 nanometer (nm) diameter capsids composed of 72 capsomer units, geometrically arranged in icosahedral symmetry which then covers a double-stranded circular DNA molecule of about 8000 base pairs in length. The L1 protein of the Capsomers is what the HPV vaccine utilizes in eliciting antibody response against the invading virus, thus destroying it.

The Immunization Program & Stats;

The Government of Ontario has just introduced a $39M voluntary program in which all 84,000 grade 8 girls are eligible to receive the anti-HPV vaccine (Gardasil) free of charge in three doses over a 6 month period. The vaccine has been approved by Health Canada for use in girls and women between the ages of 9 to 26. The vaccine protects against infection from four separate strains of HPV, which combined, cause 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer.
Those not eligible for this program can still receive the vaccine at their doctor’s office at a cost of around $400.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer for women aged 20 to 44, after breast cancer.
In Ontario, some 550 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 150 die every year.

Side Effects;

As with any vaccination, the expected side effects, if any, include redness, tenderness and swelling at the injection site and less commonly, fever, nausea, dizziness and headache. No foreign substance introduced into the body can be considered 100% safe however serious side effects are extremely rare and outweigh the benefits.

The Controversy;

In this day and age it is still mind-boggling that vaccinations or anything related to sexual transmitted diseases can stir up such public controversy. You would think that any loving parent would do whatever they could to best ensure and protect their child’s health. However, prudish attitudes, outdated values and misinformed beliefs still supersede logic in many households.

Those opposed to their child receiving the protective vaccine usually present an argument such as:
Since this virus is only transmitted by sexual contact, my pure little grade 8 darling couldn’t possibly get this disease as she is not sexually active (and will never be until the night of her wedding). The twisted logic that also follows is that because their child would be protected from sexual HPV infection, she is more likely to engage in sexual activity now that the fear of disease (and God) are removed from the equation. These arguments are more likely to be raised by parents whose child attends a Catholic School or practice other more conservative religions.

It may be news to many parents of girls attending Catholic schools but the rate of promiscuity is about the same in their institutions as for the general public of the same age group. Peer pressure, the desire to rebel and “spread your own wings”, simple curiosity, society’s ever more liberal morals, and pure raging hormones, all may supersede any cautionary words spoken by a parent. Sadly, as remote as it seems, rape still remains a reality in this world. The result is that teens are engaging in sexual activity and ever increasingly younger ages. It is beyond me how any intelligent, loving parent in today’s society would deny their child this protection on misguided ethical or moral grounds. Education, instruction and proper parenting will not be diminished by your child having this vaccine. In the end, which would really be worse, a pregnant child or one that grows to develop a possible fatal cancer?

A final thought. Will your "pure as the driven snow" daughter who has remained celibate remember to get, and be willing to pay the $400 (current cost) for the vaccine prior to her wedding day? Just remember that your future son in law "Johnny Angel" may not have led such an chaste life prior to this blissful day and may be harbouring the virus. One final wedding day present for "your little girl". Think ahead, then act responsibly NOW!

No vaccine is 100% protective and being vaccinated does not eliminate the need to see your doctor for regular checkups including checking for cervical cancer.

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