Thursday, 25 September 2008

Girls should seize the opportunity of HPV protection

Justin McCracken, the Health Protection Agency’s Chief Executive, today urged parents to encourage their daughters to take up the offer of vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) Types 16 and 18, the strains of HPV that cause 70% of cervical cancers.

Opening the annual Sexual Health of the North West Conference in Aintree, Liverpool, Mr. McCracken said that the HPV vaccination programme that is currently getting underway in schools will save hundreds of lives and spare thousands of women from investigation and treatment.

The vaccine is currently being offered to girls aged 12 and 13 in School Year 8 and to 17 and 18 year olds. Girls currently aged 14-16 will be vaccinated in a catch-up programme in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Therefore by the end of 2011, all girls currently aged up to 18 years will have had the opportunity of vaccination.

Mr. McCracken said: “Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide and approximately 400 people will die from it in the UK this year alone. If we achieve the anticipated uptake rate of 90% of eligible girls by 2011, and maintain that uptake rate into the future, we will eventually cut cervical cancer rates by three-quarters.

“The HPV vaccine is safe, proven and effective against 70% of cervical cancers. Together with the cervical cancer screening programme, the vaccine will prevent illness and save lives. Anyone who is eligible for vaccination is strongly advised to take it up.”

The conference heard that although sexually transmitted infection rates increased markedly over the past 10 years, there has been a recent levelling off of gonorrhoea, syphilis and new HIV diagnoses in line with national trends.

“There is strong evidence from the recent data that the safer sex message is hitting home and people are heeding it, but we cannot afford to be complacent over what continues to be a serious Public Health problem,” Mr. McCracken said.

“HPA North West, the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University and our Primary Care Trust partners are to be congratulated on the fact that this region has consistently achieved the highest number of screens for the National Chlamydia Screening Programme.

“That is something for you in the North West to be proud of, but we need to work even harder at encouraging young people to take up the opportunity of Chlamydia screening when it is offered to them. We need to get the screening figures up to national target levels and beyond, not just here but across the country. Only then will we fully understand the true scale of this often symptom-less infection that can have devastating consequences for individuals if left untreated.”

As the HPV vaccine only protects against the viruses that cause 70% of cervical cancers, it will still be important for vaccinated women to attend for cervical screening when they are old enough to become eligible for the programme.

• Information on Chlamydia and the other sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, is available on the Health Protection Agency website. Please access www.hpa.org.uk, then Topics A-Z for the respective infections and latest available data.

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