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HPV infection – what you need to know about vaccination!

Human papillomavirus (HPV), is a group of very common viruses, which the majority of people will be exposed to in their lifetime, often through sexual contact. HPV infections do not usually cause symptoms and most people will be unaware they are infected. There are many different strains of HPV, most of which are harmless and do not cause problems. Some sub-types however are termed “high-risk” because they are linked to certain cancers e.g. cervical, anal, genital and head & neck cancers. Other “low-risk” HPV types can cause genital warts or veruccas.

The HPV Vaccination programme offers free NHS vaccination to all school children aged 12-13 years in Northern Ireland, against four common HPV strains (6, 11, 16, 18). Types 6, 11 cause around 90% of genital warts whilst Types 16 and 18 are the most common cause of cervical cancer in the UK (> 80% cases).  This quadrivalent vaccine (Gardasil-4) is also currently offered to men who have sex with men, up to the age of 45 years, through sexual health clinics as we know they are at a higher risk of HPV-associated rectal and throat cancers.  These vaccines are most effective when offered prior to exposure to HPV, however there is evidence to show that getting the vaccine later in life and after possible HPV exposure, can still reduce the risk of harmful complications of HPV.   

At Northwell Medical we provide HPV vaccination with Gardasil-9.  This protects against the 2 commonest strains which cause genital warts, in addition to the 7 strains linked to the majority of cervical and anal cancers.  This is not available routinely on the NHS/HSE.  We can also offer a full genital skin assessment and range of treatments for genital warts should that be required. 

If you want more information on HPV, genital warts or vaccines please contact our clinic and one of our consultants will be happy to discuss this further with you.