In Depth

What is HPV and who can have the vaccine?

Shots for the cancer-causing virus to be offered to teenage boys as well as girls

Hundreds of thousands of teenage boys across the UK are to be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to protect them against potentially life-threatening infections.

The vaccination programme was introduced for girls in 2008, with cases of HPV falling by 86% among the age groups protected.

Boys aged 12 and 13 will be eligible for the vaccine from the start of the new school year, with health officials saying it will prevent 29,000 cancers for men over the next four decades.

What is HPV?

According to the NHS website, HPV is the name for a group of viruses that affect your skin and the moist membranes lining your body.

Such membranes include the cervix, mouth, throat and anus.

There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 of them can affect the genital area, and can be passed from person to person through sex.

Some HPV types have been linked to the development of certain cancers, including cervical cancer. The NHS says that 99.7% of all cervical cancers are caused by an infection with a high-risk type of HPV.

Experts stress that the majority of HPV infections do not cause any problems and that our immune systems can get rid of them.

Can HPV be treated?

There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause, including genital warts and certain cancers.

If you have HPV and the virus has caused abnormal cells, you may require treatment, says the i news site. For women, going for smear tests is the best protection against cervical cancer, since the tests can identify abnormal cells before they have a chance to develop into cancer.

The national HPV vaccination programme uses a vaccine called Gardasil.

Gardasil protects against four types of HPV: 6, 11, 16 and 18. Between them, types 16 and 18 are the cause of most cervical cancers in the UK (more than 70%).

HPV types 6 and 11 cause nearly all cases of genital warts (90%), so using Gardasil helps protect girls against both cervical cancer and genital warts.

The HPV vaccination does not protect against other infections spread during sex, such as chlamydia.

Who is eligible for the vaccination?

Since 2008, girls have been offered their first injection at the age of 12 or 13 at school, with a second dose between six and 12 months later. The jabs are free on the NHS up until the age of 18.

From September, boys aged 12 to 13 will also receive the jab free of charge at schools around the UK.

“The HPV vaccine works best if boys and girls get it before they become sexually active,” explains the BBC.

Gay men can also have a free HPV vaccine from their doctor up to the age of 45, as they do not benefit from the indirect protections offered by the widespread vaccination of girls.

The injection is available from private pharmacies, but can cost at least £400 for the course and each company has different eligibility criteria.

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