Healthy Living in the North

Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces: Shifting attitudes about breastfeeding

The Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces decal is pictured. It features a blue and white graphic of a mother and child breastfeeding and includes the text: "We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere."

It’s a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, and local businesses can support that right by ordering this decal.

Did you know that in BC there are laws that protect women’s right to breastfeed in public? To raise awareness of this right, Northern Health has made available a window decal that states: “We welcome you to breastfeed any time, anywhere.” Many businesses and organizations have posted the decal on their doors and windows. They can be ordered on the Breastfeeding-Friendly Spaces webpage.

The impact of the decal

A decal is a small thing, but it can support important conversations. I was curious to know what impact the decal had on the clients and staff of participating businesses and organizations.

To learn more, we’d have to ask! In March 2019, I had the pleasure of supporting three Health Promotions students from the University of Northern British Columbia to do just that. Sonja Bork, Fatemeh Mohammadnejad, and Molly Brawdy interviewed staff from 10 Northern BC businesses and organizations that display the decal. Overall, they learned that the decal has been well received. They described positive feedback from staff and regular visits from breastfeeding mothers. This is great!

In this project, Sonja, Fatemeh, and Molly also learned a lot. At the end of our time together, they each shared their thoughts with me. From their comments, it is clear that this project will have a lasting impact on how they view promoting breastfeeding.

Learning about biases

Molly found that this project was a chance for her to become aware of her own views on breastfeeding:

“Before, I had not considered my own attitudes towards breastfeeding in public. Through this project, I became aware that I had internalized the idea that mothers should breastfeed in private and cover up when doing so in social settings. While I was supportive of breastfeeding in general, I had not embraced the “any time, anywhere” mindset.”

Legal rights and public support

Fatemeh, an international student, noted tensions between what is legally supported in Canada and public views of breastfeeding:

“Before coming to Canada, I had not considered breastfeeding in public places, as this is not a right in my country (Iran). Through this project, I have learned that in Canada breastfeeding is not a legal problem, as there are laws that protect this right. However, there is still a lack of empathy, respect, and understanding in some organizations and in society in general. There exists some level of rejection of mothers who breastfeed in public spaces.”

Raising awareness

Because some people may not be aware of women’s right to breastfeed, Fatemeh saw value in the breastfeeding decals:

“This initiative is an opportunity to promote the right of mothers to breastfeed in any space, without feeling uncomfortable and stressed. By displaying a decal, organizations can help to raise awareness and educate clients about the importance of breastfeeding for mothers and infants.”

Supporting change

Sonja felt that the decal is a useful health promotion initiative and that the students’ role in this project was itself an important catalyst for change:

“I have found this project to be both useful for our own learning and for Northern Health. Apart from our tasks in this project, we also convey the idea of breastfeeding-friendly spaces to our peers, friends, and families, thereby … serving as mediators in this promotional process.”

Shifting attitudes

Finally, through this project, Molly described a major shift in her own attitude about breastfeeding:

“As I heard participants’ views and thought about the initiative in general, my ideas of what it means to support and promote breastfeeding shifted. Now, when I see a woman breastfeeding in public (whether covered or not) I will not see it as awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, I see an example of a woman confidently engaging in a normal behaviour for the benefit of both herself and her child.”

The reflections of these three thoughtful students show the value of supporting conversations about breastfeeding. Thank you, Sonja, Fatemeh, and Molly, for your great work, and good luck in your future health promotion activities!

Do you want a breastfeeding decal for your business or organization? Submit your request.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health Nutrition team. Her work focuses on nutrition in the early years, and she is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. She loves food! You are likely to find her gathering and preserving local food, or exploring beautiful northwest BC on foot, bike, ski, kayak, or kite.

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Public health resource nurse providing support to primary care nurses in Prince Rupert

Editor’s note: May 6-12 is Nursing Week! This story is one of several we’ll post this week to celebrate and showcase the many different types of nursing roles in Northern Health in honour of Nursing Week!

Headshot of Kim Hughes.

Kim Hughes, public health resource nurse in Prince Rupert.

Kim Hughes is a public health resource nurse in Prince Rupert, supporting primary care nurses, by providing them with practice support and mentorship in the area of public health.

“I really love mentoring and teaching. That’s always been an area of passion for me. When I’m able to do that and help people develop – that’s exciting for me,” says Kim.

Public health includes areas such as: provincial immunization programs (all ages); early childhood support for child health clinics and child health assessment; care during and after pregnancy; harm reduction; communicable disease (e.g., measles); school programs; and sexual and reproductive health. All of these areas support a complete state of physical and mental health that enables a person to lead a socially and economically productive life.

One of many public health resource nurses across the Northern Health region, Kim provides support to nurses, both experienced and new, to the practice area of public health. She works closely with them to develop orientation plans and supports them with their practice. She’s there to answer any questions and works alongside registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and registered psychiatric nurses (RPNs) in clinics when they’re new and learning. She provides information to nurses to keep them up to date on best practices, new practice changes, and regional or provincial programs in the various areas of public health.

Kim started in her role as a public health resource nurse when the role was first created at Northern Health in 2016. Preventive public health leadership provides guidance and then Kim is able to develop the role at a community level.

“Because I’m one of the original public health resource nurses, I’ve been able to be really involved in the development of the role and how it looks,” says Kim.

Kim walks alongside the nurses in their own practice and helps them develop their role. She gets to watch them become well-rounded primary care nurses – able to provide all services to their community. Kim can also sit in with a primary care nurse when they see a patient and provide in-the-moment support in more difficult situations.

Kim hopes that this story will show nursing students that there are so many nursing positions out there that go beyond providing direct care to patients. She encourages all nurses to learn about a variety of nursing roles and to see how nurses can support other nurses to provide the best care they can!

Bailee Denicola

About Bailee Denicola

Bailee is a communications advisor in the Primary Care Department and was born and raised in Prince George. She graduated from UNBC with an anthropology degree and loves exploring cultures and learning about people. When not at work, Bailee can be found hanging out with her dogs, building her house with her husband, or travelling the world.

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Public dental health: A career that makes a difference

Spirit the Cariboo holding a toothbrush with a poster that shows how adults should brush with children.I’ve been working in dental prevention since I was 16 and I was extremely fortunate that my career found me. One of my childhood Girl Guide leaders worked at a dental office and called my mother to ask if I’d be interested in working part time. She said the dentist would train me.

Doors of opportunity

Saying “yes” to this opportunity opened many wonderful doors. I first worked as a “Girl Friday” doing errands for the dentist, and trained to do infection control. Next, I helped the dentist with checkups, fillings, extractions, and cleanings. I was lucky enough to study dental assisting and dental hygiene, and to become registered and licensed. After school, a door finally opened for me to work in dental public health, so I moved to Terrace.

Improving the health of many

Over 30 years of practice, I’ve met hundreds, probably thousands of people, and being trusted with their dental health has been an honour. A dental career in public health is particularly satisfying because we apply a population health approach, which means we look at improving everyone’s health by reducing inequities or unfair health factors. One way to reduce these is to design targeted programs to people who have less advantages.

I recently read a report called “Key Health Inequalities in Canada” where poor oral health was listed as an indicator of poor overall health. Poor health can mean that a person might not have the same advantages as others. At Northern Health, we design programs that consider the social, political, and economic disadvantages that people face. In the dental program, we focus on the youngest population – children six and under and their caregivers – because working with children has the potential for the most long-term impact. As a team, we need to work efficiently and effectively, so we can stretch health care dollars.

Dental health prevention in action

The Northern Health dental team screens all one-year-olds for tooth decay, and uses the results to decide which preventive services families need.

We also offer fluoride treatments to children of at-risk families, as well as supportive and non-judgemental counselling on preventive dental care. We encourage parents to use their best parenting strength or skills and then build on that.  We then encourage families to decide on the dental goals and path that work best for their situation. It’s a rewarding experience to see a worried, sleep deprived mother learn about tools she can use in her home to stop decay in her one-year-old’s teeth.

Supporting small steps in a healthy direction

Cavities are a chronic disease caused by bacterial acid’s progressive damage to teeth over time. Giving a family fluoride toothpaste and toothbrushes so they can brush twice daily reduces the acid’s impact and empowers change. Telling families to consider how much carbohydrate children eat, and how often, is also key in supporting better oral health.

Mothers have told us they‘re telling their friends to come to the program because of the benefits they’ve experienced. It’s rewarding to see people take small steps in a healthier direction. Not all of our clients are able to make our recommended changes, yet we continue to offer to see them and provide services to build meaningful relationships over time.

Working in Public Health Dental: making an impact

As we honour and meet people in the situations they’re in, I believe both dental staff and the clients see benefits. I feel very fortunate to be able to help someone with a skill that’s so critical to their long-term health. If you‘re a dental professional already, I encourage you to consider public health as a career path to explore — you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re exploring career options, consider dental health! You’ll impact families who need you, and it’s work that’ll make both your heart and mouth smile.

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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Spirit hits the ice for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation

Some members of the Northern Health Communications Team were at the CN Centre to cheer on the Prince George Cougars and raise money for the Spirit of the North Health Care Foundation!

The team brought along some health resources, including flu information and the Northern Health Connections Bus! Spirit the Caribou even stopped by for some high fives and to meet up with old buddies, Rowdy Cat and Santa Claus.

A big thank you to our volunteers who didn’t make the photos – Kaili Keough, Anne Scott, Cheona Edzerza, and Tianna Pius.

Check out some of the night in the photos below! 

3 guys holding a large presentation cheque.
That’s a big cheque! Northern Health raised over $700 for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation at the Cougars game! Pictured above, Caleb Wilson (Prince George Cougars), Curtis Mayes (Spirit of the North), and Robbie Pozer (Northern Health).
team members around a booth.
The Northern Health and Northern Health Connections booths. Lots of great resources were available here and chuck-a-pucks were sold to raise money for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation. From left to right: Fiona MacPherson, Jesse Priseman, Sanja Knezevic, Bailee Denicola, Anne Scott, Mike Erickson, Brandan Spyker, And Haylee Seiter.
spirit the caribou and santa.
Spirit the Caribou and his good buddy Santa Claus talking about how all the reindeer are doing up north.
spirit on a zamboni at a hockey game.
Spirit hopped on the Fanboni to throw out some stuffed animals to the Cougars faithful.
Spirit the caribou standing with his friend Robbie.
Spirit and his buddy Robbie, wondering where Rowdy Cat is?
spirit and rowdy cat hanging out with thumbs up.
Spirit and his buddy Rowdy Cat hanging out cheering on the Cougars!
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What’s the real story on influenza (flu)?

Spirit caribou mascot getting flu shot.

Protect yourself and your loved ones – get your flu shot! Flu shots are available at any community pharmacy and may be available from your family physician or nurse practitioner.

A version of this article was first published in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine.


In my experience as a nurse, I have heard many questions about the flu and the flu vaccine. With flu season upon us, I wanted to look at some of the common myths I hear every year about influenza (“the flu”) and the vaccine in hopes to provide some accurate information for you to learn and share this season!

There is often a misunderstanding about the flu, with many believing that influenza is the stomach flu or the common cold. In fact, the flu is generally much worse than the common cold. Symptoms such as fever, headache, aches and pains, extreme fatigue, and cough are more common and more intense with the flu than they are with the common cold.

The common cold also generally does not result in serious health problems. Influenza, on the other hand, can lead to bacterial infections such as ear infection, a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Certain groups of people – such as seniors 65 and older, very young children, and people who have lung or heart disease, certain chronic health conditions, or weakened immune systems – are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Influenza is highly contagious and infects millions of Canadians every year. While most recover in about a week, thousands of Canadians, most of them young children and seniors, will die due to flu-related complications like pneumonia each year.

“I got the flu from my flu shot” is probably the most common myth I hear. In fact, the flu shot cannot give you influenza because the vaccine contains killed viruses that cannot cause infection. The vaccine that is given as a nasal spray does contain live virus but these viruses are attenuated (weakened) and cannot cause flu illness.

Another common question is why we need to get the flu vaccine every year. Because the flu virus is constantly changing, the flu vaccine is reviewed and updated each year to protect you.

How can I prevent influenza?

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Promptly dispose of used tissues in the waste basket or garbage
  • Cough and sneeze into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands
  • Stay home when you are ill
  • Get an influenza vaccine (are you eligible for a free vaccine?). Vaccines are available at any community pharmacy and may be available from your family physician or nurse practitioner.

Benefits of the flu vaccine

  • Prevents you from getting sick with the flu.
  • Helps protect people around you who are more vulnerable to a serious flu illness.
  • Helps to make your illness milder if you do get sick.

More information

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.

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Keeping children safe and healthy with routine immunizations

I’m drawn to the topic of immunization for National Immunization Awareness Week, which this year is April 23-30. It’s a chance to highlight the importance of routine immunizations and focus on accurate and up-to-date information and resources. It’s also a good time to reflect on the fact that in the last 50 years, immunization has saved more lives than any other intervention.

Immunization is one of the best ways parents can ensure their children stay healthy and protected from certain vaccine-preventable diseases!

During the first two years of a child’s life, they are very vulnerable and can be susceptible to many vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases can have serious health consequences for many infants and young children. In some cases, they can be deadly.

National Immunization Awareness Week poster

“For the best protection, it’s recommended that parents follow the routine schedule and ensure all shots are given on time.”

In B.C., infants and young children aged 0-5 are given free vaccines that provide protection from the following diseases:

  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Polio
  • Haemophilus Influenza type B (Hib)
  • Meningococcal
  • Pneumococcal
  • Varicella
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella (German Measles)
  • Rotavirus
  • Influenza
  • Hepatitis A (for eligible individuals)

The current immunization schedule for infants and children in B.C. has infants starting with their first set of immunizations at two months of age followed by immunizations at four months, six months, 12 months, 18 months, and kindergarten entry.

For the best protection, it’s recommended that parents follow the routine schedule and ensure all shots are given on time.

Here are six reasons from ImmunizeBC.ca why it’s best to follow the routine schedule:

  1. The routine schedule is based on the best science of today.
  2. The routine schedule is safe and works very well.
  3. You will ensure your child is protected as soon as they can be.
  4. You will reduce your child’s risk of anxiety and needle fear.
  5. The risk of side effects is the same whether vaccines are given together or separately.
  6. You will reduce the number of visits and time spent getting your child’s shots.

In B.C., parents can take their children to their local health unit for immunizations.

Have questions or want more information?

  • Call your local health unit and speak to a public health nurse.
  • Speak to your family doctor or primary health care provider.
  • Call HealthLinkBC (dial 8-1-1). They’re open 24 hours!
  • Visit ImmunizeBC.ca

About Patricia Strim

Photo and bio coming soon!

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Certified Dental Assistants: A passion for healthy smiles!

Two toothbrushes

Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours!

April is Oral Health Month!

You may not know that Northern Health has a dedicated team of public dental health professionals who are busy promoting healthy dental behaviours! This Oral Health Month, I’d like to celebrate and acknowledge the work that our Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) provide. CDAs are educated, trained dental professionals who make important assessments about patient care every day. The five ladies who make up this team are often the first person that clients meet in their community – whether it’s at family health events, Strong Start, or our fluoride varnish clinics.

I had the privilege of interviewing each of the CDAs last month and discovered the deep passion each has for working with children and families. I asked that they share a few stories and reflections here with you.

Thank you for taking time to read and consider the support these ladies provide in our communities!

Pamela:

I am a Certified Dental Assistant working as a Community Dental Assistant for Northern Health. I’ve been working for six years and during that time, I have been in contact with multiple families. The families that made the biggest impression on me were the ones who had children with early childhood caries. Sometimes these children are in pain and you can really tell that their self-esteem is low. They also struggle to eat well.

After these children are treated and their pain is alleviated, the difference can make you cry! I like to compare it to a flower that is blooming – so beautiful and happy! There is nothing better than watching a child start to thrive again, eat, and be healthy and happy! This is what makes me love my job and makes me passionate about healthy children.

Wendy:

I appreciate the variety that my job as a dental assistant in public & population health offers. I love working with young children and their parents and especially enjoy working with immigrant families. Recently, our dental program was invited to the multicultural society in Prince George to meet with several new refugee families from Syria. A co-worker and I did basic teaching around oral health, screening and referral for obvious dental needs, and did fluoride applications for children under 6 years. The children and I got a great laugh as I attempted to pronounce their names. They had no problem with my name! All in all, it was a great privilege to meet these families and to be a small part of not only helping them on the road to achieve better dental health, but also to show compassion and friendship as they face many new challenges in adjusting to their new life in Canada.

Louise:

When I think of a success story in my time as a Certified Dental Assistant, I remember the first time I went out to see families in a remote community. I was screening children and doing fluoride varnish with the parents present. One mom had several children at the Health Unit. She brought her 18 month old last. We did a “knee-to-knee” dental exam and “lift-the-lip.” As we looked at this child’s teeth, I noticed the start of cavities. Not just white lines, but brown, stained upper anterior teeth with ditching in them. Further investigation revealed that the mom was breastfeeding ad lib, wasn’t brushing for the child, and that the family had cavities themselves.

I encouraged brushing at least 2-3 times a day with fluoride toothpaste and showed how to brush. I also discussed decay-causing acids from the frequency of sugary drinks, such as juice, pop, or even milk. Breast milk was the best option for her child so I encouraged continuing on, but really stressed the importance of brushing with fluoride toothpaste, having fluoride varnish done, and taking her child to the dentist. I said if we did these things, her child may not have to have work done in the hospital within the next year or two, and we could keep those cavities “at bay” until the child was able to sit in the dental chair to have the work done.

The next time I spoke with mom, she had taken him to the dentist and was brushing lots with fluoride toothpaste. The dentist had scooped out some decay and burnished the fluoride varnish into the cavitation. The fluoride varnish was done routinely (about every 2-3 months) and the teeth strengthened. We built a relationship of trust through these fluoride varnish appointments. Her child had some dental work done while sitting in the chair at 5 years of age. The upper anterior teeth weren’t involved; it was the back molars that had fillings done. There was no hospital work done and fewer cavities/fillings. Overall, we saw much better outcomes. We still have a trusting relationship when I see her and her family in the community. Now, her children are having children: the next generation. Hopefully there will be more great changes in their dental health and overall health!

Thank you card

Thank you card received by a Certified Dental Assistant.

Dianne:

This is a very special card to me. The inside note says, “You have been an amazing ‘Tooth Fairy’ for us!”

This was given to me by a very grateful young mother. This mom’s 2.5 year old was in urgent need of dental treatment. When they came to me, he had already been on antibiotics and was not sleeping or eating very much. Mom was very worried and did not know where to start to help her son.

Because of some special circumstances, this mom had spent over two years trying to figure out the paperwork to get dental coverage for her son. She had even started some personal fundraising for dental care, but even these funds had to be redirected to a family emergency.

I got involved and supported the many levels of communication required in this case. There was communication to coordinate with a dental office (which took the case knowing that they may not be paid), local government staff for travel arrangements, local and regional administrators, doctors’ offices, Save a Smile program, dental therapist, and a local church.

Ultimately, people worked together and this child received full treatment within one month of their visit with me! The family was not able to pay the dental office in full at the time but the mom is still committed to sending this office extra money as she is able to. Mom is so thankful that her child sleeps and eats well and can run and play as a child should. I see him regularly for fluoride varnish; he is doing very well and will start kindergarten in the fall. He and others like him are why I love my job!

Kim:

After I graduated as a Certified Dental Assistant and started working, I quickly realized that chair-side assisting wasn’t for me. I wasn’t proud of the work I was doing or the setting I worked in. I job-hopped for a while gaining experience and looking for something that would satisfy my mind. The job-hopping stopped when I was hired as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant!

Public health has given me the opportunity to use my life skills and personal abilities in my daily work in a way that I wasn’t able to in an office setting. I’ve also had a lot of personal growth in this career. It has come to me through different work experiences such as teaching clients, presenting to groups, coaching clients through oral hygiene changes, learning about statistics and cultures, gaining computer skills, and the freedom to use my creativity to reach people when the “usual” way doesn’t work.

My career as a Public Health Certified Dental Assistant has contributed to me being a well-rounded person with the confidence to tackle whatever is in front of me.

Shirley Gray-Kealey

About Shirley Gray-Kealey

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.

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HPV vaccine = Cancer prevention

Did you know that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is a well-established cause of cancer and is present in nearly all cervical cancers?

You may have heard a lot of buzz about the HPV vaccine, but it can be hard to get all the facts when life is busy! So here’s what you need to know!

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually-transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately three out of four sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. You can get HPV by having sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus.

What is the HPV vaccine?

There are two vaccines approved for use in Canada, Cervarix® and Gardasil®, that protect against cervical cancer, anal cancer, and various other cancers. The Gardasil® vaccine also protects against genital warts.

Who should be immunized?

Girls in Grade 6 are provided the Gardasil® vaccine for free in B.C. If you missed your HPV vaccine, or if your daughter missed it in school, you may still be eligible for free vaccine. Girls and young women born in 1994 or later who missed getting the vaccine in school can contact their health care provider to get immunized for free.

New for B.C. is that some boys and men are eligible for free vaccine, too! The HPV vaccine is provided free of charge to males aged 9-26 who are questioning their sexual orientation, have sex with men, are street involved, or are infected with HIV. For full eligibility criteria, visit the HPV page at HealthLinkBC.

The vaccine is also recommended for adult women up to 45 years old, boys and men 9-26 who do not meet the specified criteria above, and men 27 and older who have sex with men. For these three groups, HPV vaccine can be purchased at most pharmacies.

Vaccine bottle and packaging

The Gardasil(r) vaccine is one of two HPV vaccines approved for use in Canada. It protects against cervical cancer, various other cancers, and genital warts.

HPV vaccine facts:

  • Vaccination provides the best protection when given to girls aged 9-13.
  • The vaccine works best if received before a person becomes sexually active.
  • Those who are sexually active may still benefit from the vaccine.
  • The HPV vaccine is safe – over 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide.
  • You can’t get HPV from the vaccine.
  • Vaccination is up to 99 per cent effective at preventing the types of HPV that are responsible for most genital warts and HPV-related cancers.

Visit ImmunizeBC for more information about HPV.

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.

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Is your daughter in Grade 6 this year? Do you have questions about the HPV vaccine?

Dog with a sign that says "back to school".

It’s back-to-school season across the province! With all of the papers your kids are bringing home, Kathryn urges you to keep your eyes open for the Immunization Consent Form and answers your questions about the HPV vaccine and how it can protect your kids from cancer.

As we settle back into school routines and the leaves slowly start to yellow and fall, you may feel overwhelmed with the handfuls of papers that your child is bringing back from school. One paper that I hope you watch out for is the Grade 6 Immunization Consent Form.

You may have heard a lot about one of the vaccines offered to female students in Grade 6: the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. As a public health nurse, I have had many conversations with parents and girls about the HPV vaccine. I am frequently impressed with the amount of reading and research that parents do on their own to make the best choices for their children. Often, our main resource for information is social media like Facebook where it can be a challenge to find information that is evidence-based and reliable.

My goal in writing this blog is to provide you with some helpful information on the HPV vaccine and some of the valuable sites for more information that are at your fingertips! I thought about some of the most frequently asked questions that I get from parents and young women about the HPV vaccine and thought that some of these may be on your mind, too, as you consider the HPV vaccine for yourself or your child.

What is the HPV vaccine anyways?

Gardasil® (HPV4) is the HPV vaccine given to Grade 6 girls in B.C. It protects against 4 different types of HPV infection.

It provides protection against two types of HPV that cause about 70% of cervical cancers, 80% of anal cancers, and various other cancers such as cancers of the mouth & throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. It also protects against infection from two more types of HPV that cause about 90% of genital warts cases.

What is HPV?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world today. Approximately 75% of sexually active Canadians will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Any kind of sexual activity involving oral or genital contact can spread HPV. Sexual intercourse is not necessary to get infected.

Why should I vaccinate my Grade 6 daughter?

Many parents have asked me why their child should have the vaccine if their daughters are not currently sexually active. Research has shown that vaccination provides the best levels of protection in girls aged 9 to 13. In fact, preteens have a better immune response to the vaccine. The vaccine works best when it is given before sexual activity begins, because the HPV vaccines were developed to prevent HPV, not to treat it.

Is the vaccine safe?

I often receive questions about the HPV vaccine and its safety. Studies show that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Since the HPV vaccine was approved, 175 million doses have been distributed worldwide. Vaccines in Canada are only licenced for use if they meet strict standards for safety and effectiveness.

The most common side effects from the vaccine include redness, swelling, and soreness in the arm where the vaccine was given as well as headache and fever. You cannot become infected with HPV from the vaccine and the vaccines do not contain any antibiotics or preservatives, such as mercury or thimerosal.

What if my daughter missed her Grade 6 vaccine?

Worried your daughter missed her Grade 6 HPV vaccine? Girls born in 1994 or later who missed getting the HPV4 vaccine can contact their health care provider to get immunized at no cost.

What else do I need to know about HPV and cervical cancer?

  • Three out of four sexually active women will get HPV at some point in their lives.
  • Most don’t show any signs or symptoms and can pass the virus onto others without even knowing it.
  • Every year in B.C., 175 women will get cervical cancer.

What about my son and other boys and men?

You may have heard of new eligibility for HPV vaccine for boys and men aged 9-26 in B.C. While there is new eligibility for free vaccine for certain boys and men, there will be no changes to the school vaccine programs. If you’d like more information about new eligibility criteria and accessing the free vaccine for boys and men, visit HealthLinkBC.

Can you suggest any other helpful resources about HPV?

  • For more information on the HPV vaccine, visit HPV Info or ImmunizeBC.
  • Check out some informative videos about the HPV vaccine at ImmunizeBC. I like the Dr. Mike Evans videos and find the personal stories of experiences with cervical cancer very powerful to watch.
  • If you have more questions or would like more information about the HPV vaccine, speak to your doctor or contact your primary care provider.

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Going to your doctor is the “man-healthy” option. Why should you visit?

Man with his arm around a statue.

Talking to someone about your body and health concerns can be frightening – you may prefer statues – but Jim challenges men to be vulnerable for a while. A quick chat with the doctor can empower you to make choices about health before you are forced to be talking about disease.

It would be great if we could all cut disease off at the pass and catch every ailment before it developed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could consign disease to history with each of us simply dying in our own beds of old age?

This is a utopian dream, of course, but it is grounded in the need to move our focus from illness to health. That is my discussion here and in my opinion we actually need to access our doctors before we develop a reason to go see one.

The problem with us males might be that we tend to think that if we can work, then we must be healthy. Sometimes we also have the tendency to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the warning signs. I recently did that myself!

Going to the doctor once a year for that face-to-face time or to check blood work or blood pressure is the healthy option for men. I have heard men say that they would not visit a doctor in case “they found something.” As much as I understand that nobody wants to have “something”, it is generally better to have that “something” discovered before it bites your backside and is too late to treat effectively.

The need to try and find disease before it happens is not only wise, but is a strategy employed in many civilized nations with public health departments. Strategies such as immunization and health education are well advanced and often taken for granted. As are such things as access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Without these, many people become ill and many die.

Going to your doctor causes little harm in itself (perhaps some anxiety) and actually empowers you to make choices about your health before you are talking about your disease.

Discussing changes in our bodies and concerns about our health with our doctors gives us the best chance at avoiding some types of cancer and heart disease by making lifestyle changes when they’re still effective at improving our health. Stopping smoking, eating more vegetables and fruit, managing stress and living an active life can not only help us live longer, but live better. Feel better for longer.

Death – so far – has not been overcome, I am told.

Talk to your doctor and be a little vulnerable for a while. No one needs to know about it.

All the best.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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