On Aug. 2, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, will be offered to about 84,000 girls in Grade 8 in Ontario schools this fall.
The school-based vaccination program is aimed at protecting young women against pre-cancerous cervical lesions and cervical cancer.
“Vaccination was designated in 1999 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of public health’s 10 greatest achievements of the 20th century,” noted Dr. Pete Sarsfield, medical officer of health and CEO of the Northwestern Health Unit.
“In fact, it was listed in the first-place category,” he said.
“This degree of importance is increasing in the 21st century,” Dr. Sarsfield added.
“For example, the new anti-HPV vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce the incident of cervical cancer in women, which is a major and long anticipated advance in the prevention of a vicious disease.
“Along with routine pap tests and other preventive precautions, I strongly recommend this vaccine for all young women in our region,” stressed Dr. Sarsfield.
HPV can be passed from one person to another through direct skin contact that occurs during sexual activity. A person with HPV infection may not know they are infected because they have no symptoms.
However, even with no symptoms, one can pass the infection to their sexual partners.
Depending on the HPV infection, the infected individual or their sexual partner may develop genital warts, cervical abnormalities, cervical cancer, or other genital cancer.
There are more than 130 HPV types. HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 are common. In Canada, types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of genital warts and types 16 and 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancer.
The body’s immune system will fight off an HPV infection and most infections go away on their own over time.
There are treatments available through your family doctor for certain types of HPV, such as those that cause genital warts.
The Gardasil vaccine can protect against four types (6, 11, 16 and 18) of HPV infections. The 2007-08 HPV vaccination program will target all Grade 8 girls using the new vaccine.
Public health nurses will give students three injections over a six-month period beginning in October.
The vaccine is almost 100 percent effective against the four HPV strains, and also is very safe and well-tolerated.
Parents, students, and the general public who have any questions may contact their local health unit office or visit www.nwhu.on.ca