HPV Vaccine – Know the facts!

HPV

HPV stands for ‘human papillomavirus, which is a group of more than 100 viruses.

Around 40 types of HPV can infect the genital tract of both men and women, and over 75% of people in Ireland don’t understand what HPV is. Well we’re here to help…..

The HPV virus is very common, around 80% of people will be infected with the virus at some stage in their lives. Research shows that almost every sexually active adult will have at one point been in contact with HPV. The majority of HPV infections do not cause any symptoms and it has been shown that 90% of all cervical cancers can be traced back to HPV.

According to the HSE, 300 Irish women get cervical cancer every year. 90 of whom will die form the illness. One of the first countries to introduce the vaccine, Australia (who introduced it in 2007), has seen a decrease of more than 50% in rates of pre-cancer of the cervix in the last 10 years.

The Spread of HPV

HPV is spread by close ‘skin to skin’ contact during any kind of sexual activity. This includes vaginal, anal and oral sex or genital contact with a person that has HPV.  Condoms will reduce, but not eliminate the risk of contracting HPV as the virus can affect areas not covered by a condom.

In girls, HPV infection can cause cancer of the:

Cervix, Vaginal Area, Anus, Throat

Vulva (the area surrounding the opening of the vagina) and Mouth/Head/Neck

In boys, HPV infection can cause cancer of the:

Anus, Throat, Penis, Mouth/Head/Neck

HPV infection can also cause genital warts in both girls and boys.

From September 2019, boys and girls in their first year of secondary school are being offered the HPV vaccine as part of the school vaccination programme.

Mouth, Head and Neck Cancer

Mouth Head and Neck Cancer is a diverse group of squamous cell cancers that affect the oral cavity, pharynx, and larynx.

Overall, it is the sixth most common cancer worldwide with an annual estimated incidence of 550,000 cases with over 700 of those in Ireland and around 300,000 deaths.

Although usually associated with smoking and alcohol, a significant subset of oropharyngeal cancers is driven by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and these cancers account, at least in part, for the significant increase in recent years.

Reduce the Risk

There is a lack of awareness, or simply a spread of misinformation about what HPV actually is, and how it can be prevented.

53% of parents don’t worry about their sons contracting HPV, while 62% of people think that HPV is a rare condition. Thankfully, vaccines are now available which gives more than 99% protection against infection from high risk HPV types.

Reducing the risk is very important and individuals can do so by:

  1. Not Smoking – Smoking stops the bodies immune system from working properly, leaving a person more likely to develop HPV infections.
  2. Leading a Healthy Lifestyle – Keeping your immune system strong is very important.
  3. Getting HPV vaccinated – The HPV vaccine protects against the HPV virus which can cause cancer and genital warts in both women and men. The vaccine has greatly reduced cases of pre-cancers of the cervix in young women in many countries (ie – Australia, UK and the US).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that the HPV vaccine is extremely safe. Since it was rolled out, more than 220’000 Irish girls have safely received the vaccine and more than 200 million doses of the vaccine have been administered around the world. If you have questions about the HPV vaccine, talk to a trusted health professional like your GP or dentist.

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