90% wrongly believe they have never been exposed to HPV virus

Nine out of 10 Irish adults wrongly believe they have never been exposed to the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV).

The finding emerged from a national survey that also found six out of 10 people are unaware there are vaccines that can prevent HPV infections.

More than a third (38%) falsely believe that HPV cannot be transmitted from one person to another.

HPV infection usually clears up by itself, but if it does not, it can cause cancer. It caused 420 cancers in men and women each year between 2010 and 2014. Up to 130 men and women die in Ireland every year from cancers caused by HPV.

The research was commissioned by the pharmaceutical company, MSD Ireland, and supported by the Marie Keating Foundation and Irish Cancer Society. It was published yesterday to mark the first International HPV Awareness Day.

The HPV Vaccination Alliance said the 2017 vaccination programme indicated that vaccine uptake among secondary school girls had risen to 62%, partially reversing two years of decline.

Head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Rob O’Connor, said they were very happy to see an increase in the vaccine uptake but were not happy with the level of uptake — it should be over 90%.

The society is one of the 37 members of the alliance formed last summer to present the facts about the HPV vaccine. “We and other pro-health organisations will continue to do our absolute utmost to inform people of the facts and make sure they realise the life-saving potential of this vaccine,” said Dr O’Connor.

During the next two months, immunisation teams will visit secondary schools to administer the second dose of the vaccine and those who chose not to get the first dose last autumn will be offered it again.

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