Council Speaker, Usually Private, Tweets She Has HPV

Monday, August 18, 2014

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito takes an Early Morning Walk through Her Neighborhood and Chats with Residents and Constituents. (William Alatriste for the New York City Council)

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced on Twitter that she was diagnosed with a common sexually transmitted disease that can cause cancer, usually in women. Normally a very private person, Mark-Viverito said she wanted to talk about her heath publicly in order to bring awareness to the disease.

Mark-Viverito tweeted Sunday that she has "high-risk HPV," or human papillomavirus. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease, affecting 79 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV causes cancers in a small number of those with HPV. About 14 million people are diagnosed with HPV each year; 10,000 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Mark-Viverito's announcement came a week after the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched an ad campaign encouraging pre-teens to get vaccinated for HPV.

Reaction to the speaker's announcement was generally positive. 

"She could have kept it to herself, no one would have blamed her, but she decided to use it as a teachable moment to encourage women to get the screening they need," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "I think it was brave; I think it was exemplary."

De Blasio said he spoke to Mark-Viverito on Monday.  

The speaker has nearly 12,000 Twitter followers whom she's not shy about engaging with.

Public Advocate Tish James called Mark-Viverito a dear friend, but said she herself wouldn't be so open about her own private issues. "No. That's why I salute her," said James. "She is very brave. She's very bold. But it doesn't surprise me."

The move didn't surprise freshman Councilmember Laurie Cumbo either. "As a new Council member, as chair of the women's issues committee, it's going to cause me to do some real soul-searching in terms of talking about my own personal challenges," Cumbo reflected.

Mark-Viverito is scheduled to have a biopsy on Tuesday.

A spokesman referred requests for comment on the matter to the speaker's Twitter feed.



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Comments [9]

Lin Clark from New York

My mother died from cervical cancer caused by HPV. This happened 16 years ago. My family had no knowledge of HPV then. There is more awareness now but still not enough. Preventive care and PAP smears need to be further promoted. Ms. Vivirito has provided a teachable moment to get screened, have a biopsy and to go from there. This is regardless of her being in political office.

Aug. 24 2014 06:36 AM
NewYorkerinCA from Los Angeles

I'm glad that the speaker was courageous in tweeting about HPV. Maybe it will lead to more advocacy. The only thing that I would add is that de Blasio is incorrect in saying that it is a "teachable moment to encourage women to get the screening they need." HPV also affects men, and it can cause cancer for both men and women. While his intent was certainly good, the encouragement should be extended to both men and women.

Aug. 23 2014 07:15 PM
Annie from Queens

20 years ago, this would just be called in irregular pap smear - a preventative test that can detect abnormal cell growth, which can then be eradicated before it becomes cancer. Except now doctors can locate the virus that causes the irregular pap smear, so there's even an extra layer of preventative medicine (great!). This is not a big deal, as many, many, many women have this and, if they take the necessary precautions (like getting regular paps and tests), it most likely won't become anything life-threatening. No one should make her feel bad about this. Would anyone critique a politician for saying s/he found a melanoma and is taking steps to have it removed before it becomes something more serious? That's the closest analogy to this.

Aug. 23 2014 02:17 PM
Donald from nyc

I can't imagine a man in public office telling he has a sexually transmitted disease. Is this a way for her to cover up all her bad publicity of the past: not paying taxes, not saying the Pledge of allegiance , etc. She is now a good speaker? I wish her luck but still think she shouldn't have been the Speaker.

Aug. 22 2014 10:11 PM
Billy from Hudson Valley

Some males (myself included) were not familiar with HPV until this was made public. Acronyms assist when communicating or marketing, but they do tend to make everything look and sound similar.

I was not aware that that cancer could be an end-result of a STD resistant to antibiotics.

Frightening and depressing. I wish her and others well.

Aug. 19 2014 03:38 PM
Molly from CT

I wanted to call in on this issue but didn't catch the # in time.

I'm ecstatic about attention to high risk HPV. I lived in a pretty liberal state and had a pretty liberal sex ed class. Other STDs (that are largely curable) were covered thoroughly and graphically, while HPV was barely touched on (and then, only re: genital warts.) We were never taught that ~80% of sexually active people would get HPV, or any outcome of a high risk strain.

I went on to have a probably about average sex life, possibly below average, and was extremely responsible. Nevertheless I became infected with a high risk strain, unfortunately about a year before the HPV vaccine came out. This was in 2009 and I am STILL dealing with the consequences, I have to get another colposcopy today and am not even 30 years old.

People can become infertile, need organs removed, or DIE from this (unlike Chlamydia or Syphilis, treated with antibiotics.) It can go away on its own, or not. No one knows if it is really gone or just latent. No one knows if you can transfer back and forth between your spouse. I can't help but cry with frustration when I think about how I never even knew any of this was possible.

So YES - it IS time to talk about it! All young adults should get the vaccination for high risk HPV. We can't keep referring to this as "the common cold of STDs." Colds don't lead to Cancer.

Aug. 19 2014 11:31 AM
Brandon from LES

Leave the poor woman alone! Seems like WNYC is ganging up on her with all this smugly judgmental "Is it appropriate...?" invitations to discussion.

Maybe she's freaked out and wants to take advantage of this teachable moment. Maybe she doesn't realize that alot of "high risk" HPV really isn't that high risk at all. Maybe she doesn't realize that the whole friggin' world has HPV, much of it "potentially high-risk." It's probably her first time; let her work through this, perhaps education herself, and maybe raise awareness at the same time. It's August, after all! I just hope it doesn't turn out she's on a Gardasil payroll somewhere...

(Btw... there are some great Chinese herbal medicine formulas (and not just the "power mushrooms" ones) that can both wonderfully suppress and sometimes eradicate these infections. I have a conflict of interest here, but I hey I can take advantage of this teachable moment too, no?)

Aug. 19 2014 09:00 AM
Audrey from queens ny

God can fix anything and everything. This is a very personal experience that she is using to inspire other women to become aware of and to get tested if needed. My heart and prayers go out to her. Thank you for your courage and caring enough to share such a personal experience. peace and blessings

Aug. 19 2014 08:58 AM
M from New York

I can't for the life of me understand why this is considered good for women's place in society. It reduces them further to being about nothihg more than their reproductive organs no matter what else they might do, accomplish, or what serious political or authoratative office they may be in. Males in political offices just don't do something like this, and they have the right idea. Ms. Vivirito should be wise enough to take this situation into it's own context and not set off some alarm. The fact is that the College of Physicians even decided that annual exams are not necessary and even if they did not, the fact is that "women's tests" are actually over-recommended and there are a lot of women who are not at risk for HPV (monogamous women, and abstinent women) and the medical establishment still refers to all women as walking diseases waiting to happen.
There is another side to this issue that is not being addressed.

Aug. 19 2014 08:38 AM

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