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Boys 'should have HPV vaccination'

Experts are calling for boys to be vaccinated against a sexually-transmitted virus after figures showed half of men are carrying the infection.

Certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) are known to cause cervical cancer in women and have been linked to big increases in rates of oral cancer.

A study, published in The Lancet, found that 50% of men are infected with the virus. It also discovered every year 6% of men in the general population will acquire the cancer-causing HPV type 16.

The research - conducted by scientists at the Cancer Centre and Research Institute in Florida - has prompted British experts to call for boys being vaccinated to stem the spread of the virus and prevent genital warts and anal cancers, which are also thought to be caused by HPV.

The well-known link between HPV and cervical cancer has led to the routine vaccination of girls aged 12 to 13 in the UK since 2008.

Head of the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, Professor Lawrence Young, said: "Although the study is a little unclear about how incidence is defined, it confirms something that we have suspected for some time - that men are a reservoir of HPV infection and transmit this virus to women.

"Thus, HPV vaccination of men would not only contribute to preventing cervical cancer in women but also impact on the rising incidence of HPV-associated oral cancer - a tumour which has risen by 50% in men in the UK since 1989 and accounts for almost 2,000 deaths per year."

Clinical consultant Dr Anne Szarewski, honorary senior lecturer at the London-based Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, added: "It must surely strengthen the argument for vaccination of men, both for their own protection, and that of their partners."

The study analysed 1,159 men aged 18 to 70 years from the US, Brazil, and Mexico. It found that men who had 50 or more female sexual partners were 2.4 times more likely to have the cancer-causing HPV infection compared to those with one partner or no partners.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The aim of the programme is to prevent cervical cancer in women and the best way to do this is to vaccinate girls and young women. Vaccination of boys was not recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation because once 80% coverage among girls has been achieved it is not necessary to vaccinate boys. 80% coverage was achieved in the first year of the HPV vaccination programme."

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