It’s been almost 10 years since the SARS crisis put Hong Kong on its knees and redefined, sort of, how cleanliness should be practiced. But as SARS and its 299 victims become part of a painful chapter in the city’s history, and threat of SARS doesn’t appear imminent, everyone must continue to exercise proper hygiene and cleanliness. That’s because a cancer-causing virus has been found to exist in public areas.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that can cause warts and is, in serious cases, linked to cervical cancer, according to a study recently released by the Society of Physicians of Hong Kong (SPHK). The problem is that one could easily be in contact with HPV in public such as escalator, bus or subway handrails, lift buttons, restaurant menu or door handles. That means everything we touch outside of our home – assuming our home is a sterile environment – is a potential virus carrier.
So far, HPV has been found at seven busy locations in the city, including Prince Edward MTR station and Fa Yuen Street Public Library in Mong Kok. The result was made after 62 locations throughout Hong Kong were examined last month.
SPHK’s president Dr Paul Lam warned that HPV could be carried on the surface of skin and cause infections if one fails to observe proper hygiene such as washing hands thoroughly after visiting the washroom or touching an open wound. Will this be a signal stern enough to improve toilet habits? The jury is still out, but as far as my observations go – not that I am nosy – time is too valuable to spend extra seconds to wash hands thoroughly with soap; almost everyone is in a hurry.
And maybe they have scientific backing to support their lifestyle. Dermatology specialist Dr Henry Chan said there is not enough evidence to show that viruses can survive long enough outside a host’s body.
Prevention is much better than cure, so despite doubts from certain camps, SPHK and the Family Planning Association announced a city-wide vaccination campaign for primary and secondary students aged nine and above. Hopefully, everyone will heed advice and maintain proper hygiene, even if this alarm may be overly exaggerated.