In The Dark About HPV? Here’s What You Need To Know About The Most Common STI

Almost all sexually active men and women will get HPV in their lifetime.

What do you know about HPV? Ask yourself. Seriously.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a very common virus transmitted through any kind of sexual contact that almost all men and women will get in their lifetime. Most strains of HPV are harmless and will clear up by themselves – most of the time you might never even know you have it. Other types of HPV can cause genital warts, as well as cancers like cervical and anal cancer. Something we should all be well educated about, right?

However, new research from MSD Ireland shows that 63% of Irish people have no idea that men and women are at equal risk of contracting HPV – and almost 90% of men don’t realise they can get it at all. Yikes.

Each year in Ireland, up to 130 people (100 women and 30 men) die from HPV-related cancers, which is why 2fm’s Lottie Ryan is teaming up with fellow presenter Keith Walsh and MSD Ireland to encourage people to get the facts.

Speaking to STELLAR, she said she wished the HPV vaccine was available while she was still in school: “I’m in my 30s, I’m becoming increasingly more conscious of my health and wellbeing. My two younger sisters both got the vaccine, and I guess I would have loved to have had the opportunity.”

Knowing what I know now after becoming attached to this campaign, I think vaccination is a responsible approach to preventing HPV infection. I think it’s important for everyone, not just parents, to get the facts about HPV – to talk to their doctors and ask questions. It’s a responsibility we all have to look after each other.

The HPV vaccine is currently offered to all girls in first year of secondary school – it hasn’t been without its controversies, but Lottie advises anyone with questions to consult a healthcare professional or look to World Health Organisation (WHO) approved sources.

“There is a lot of fear-mongering [about the HPV vaccine] – information is so easily accessible online, so it’s important to make sure what you’re getting is correct and factual,” she says. “That’s why I think it’s particularly important to go to your GP and get a qualified, professional opinion. HPV.ie is also a great HSE resource about the virus.”

If you’re wondering what the professionals think about the vaccine – WHO has classed it as “extremely safe” and the HSE says there is “no scientific evidence in Ireland or in any other country that the HPV vaccine causes any long-term medical condition”.

If you’ve been vaccinated, congrats! But remember, you still have to go for your smear test. “The vaccine doesn’t cover every type of HPV virus so some women will slip through,” says Prof Ray O’Sullivan of St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny. “And for those women who might have missed [the vaccine] and those who are a little bit older, it’s all about having your smear test.”

Lottie thinks that opening up the conversation around HPV can only be a good thing – after all, it happens to almost everyone. “Making it not a taboo subject is incredibly important,” she says.

There’s nothing wrong with going with your partner to your GP and having that chat together. That’s what I would do anyway, because I don’t have all the answers – I certainly didn’t have them before I got involved with the campaign. I feel much more at ease and well educated now.

For more information, visit HPVAware.ie

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