Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City Council, brought much attention to what can be somewhat of a taboo subject last weekend when she announced that she has contracted a “high-risk” form of HPV.
Mark-Viverito (D-District 8), who had last visited her gynecologist two years earlier, received the diagnosis on Friday and learned that she would need a biopsy. The gravity of the New York City Council speaker’s situation, however, did not stop her from sharing the teachable moment with her more than 12,000 Twitter followers.
“Yes, I’m an extremely private person,” said Mark-Viverito, according to Reuters. “But this position has led me to understand I now have a bigger responsibility.”
HPV, also known as the human papillomavirus, stands as the most commonly sexually transmitted disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although HPV remains dormant in most people, it often causes genital warts that progress into precancerous lesions and ultimately cervical cancer in less than 10 percent of women who contract it.
HPV can be detected with a pap smear — a process during which a gynecologist conducts lab tests on cells and mucus collected from around the cervix — and a pelvic exam during annual check-ups. Women without health insurance can be tested for HPV through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Girls and women also qualify for free pap smears and pelvic exams through the Affordable Care Act. Two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are currently on the market.
But even with the availability of vaccines, only 30 percent of women receive the recommended three shots before the age of 30. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that adolescent girls receive the HPV vaccine by the age of 11, many parents do not follow suit because they believe their children are too young to receive them. Concerns about the safety of vaccines have also discouraged use among 16 percent of parents, according to a 2013 study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver.
Whether Mark-Viverito’s statement has compelled droves of people to visit their gynecologist has yet to be seen. But some people may use the New York City Council speaker’s tweets as an opportunity to delve in the issue of the national gynecologist shortfall that’s predicted to reach between 9,000 and 14,000 in the next 20 years.