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Vaccination drive sees 86% drop in cervical cancer-linked viruses

By Sally Wardle

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine programme has led to significant reductions in the number of young women carrying potentially life-threatening infections, a study has shown.

The majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV 16 and HPV 18 strains.

These infections decreased by 86% in women aged 16 to 21 who were eligible for the vaccination as teenagers between 2010 and 2016, according to surveillance data from England.

HPV is the name for a group of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes lining the body. There are more than 100 types of HPV. Around 30 types of HPV infection can affect the genital area.

Genital HPV infections are common and highly contagious.

Other types of infection can cause minor problems, such as common skin warts and verrucas.

The Public Health England (PHE) study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, suggests the vaccine programme could trigger future reductions in cervical cancer rates.

Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said: "These results are very promising and mean that we can expect to see significant decreases in cervical cancer, which is currently one of the biggest causes of cancer in women under 35.

"This study also reminds us how important it is to keep vaccination rates high to reduce the spread of this preventable infection.

"I encourage all parents of girls aged 12 to 13 to make sure they take up the offer of this potentially life-saving vaccine."

The data shows declines across five high-risk HPV types in total, which cause around 90% of cervical cancer cases.

It adds to a body of evidence which suggests the vaccine offers protection against other HPV types that can cause cervical cancer, PHE said.

Robert Music, chief executive of Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "It is extremely positive to see the impact the vaccination has had on prevalence of cervical cancer-causing HPV infection among vaccinated women.

"One day we hope to see cervical cancer become a disease of the past and it is only through high vaccination rates that we will get there.

"For women who have had the vaccine, it is important to remember it does not offer full protection against cervical cancer so attending cervical screening when invited is still important."

The HPV vaccination programme was first introduced in 2008 and 80% of people aged 15-to-24 have now been vaccinated in the UK.

It is available free on the NHS to all girls from the age of 12 until they turn 18. Girls in England are offered their first HPV vaccination when they are in year 8 of school.

The second dose is offered six to 12 months later.

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