10% of women infected with human papillomavirus by age 16

A new study by the Health protection Agency estimates at least 10% of young women in England have been infected with one or more strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) by the age of 16. The study will be discussed on the last day of the Health Protection Agency annual conference in Warwick.

The study, the first of its kind in England , investigated the proportion of women aged 10-29 years who had antibodies indicating they had been infected with HPV. Researchers tested blood samples from 1483 girls and women for types of HPV that can cause genital warts and cervical cancer. Results show that from the age of 14, the risk of HPV infection increases sharply.

Some HPV infections can cause cervical cancers in women and genital warts in both women and men, although most infections with HPV cause no symptoms and clear on their own.

Andrew Vyse, who is presenting the study to the conference said: “This study gives us vital information about how common HPV infection is in young women of different ages. However it does have some limitations and does not give a precise estimate of infection rates in young women in England therefore more work needs to be done.

“The study adds to what we already know about HPV, however we still need to learn more about the risks of infection and of the risks for persistent infection and progression to cancer.

Professor Pat Troop , Chief Executive of the Agency said: "This study is a valuable addition to our understanding of HPV infection in women in England and should contribute to effective policies to prevent genital warts and cervical cancer.

“With the Government's recent announcement of the possible introduction of HPV vaccination, such research will help us and other public health experts to determine the impact of HPV vaccination."

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