It's the most common sexually transmitted disease and is likely to infect every sexually active man and woman at some point in their lives, but 81% of people believe they're unlikely to ever contract HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

New research, carried out by Behaviour & Attitudes on behalf of MSD Ireland, examined awareness and perceptions of HPV in Ireland, polling a representative sample of over 1,000 people.

The results revealed that 81% of people believe they are unlikely to have ever had HPV, despite the vast majority of sexually active adults contracting the virus at some point in their life.

Additionally, the survey showed that 48% of adults are not aware that HPV can cause certain cancers; only 4% recognised how common the HPV virus is, and only 19% understood that they are likely to have had HPV at some point in their life.

"The findings demonstrate the continued need for HPV awareness campaigns to the general public, so they're aware of just how prevalent HPV is and the risks associated," says Dr. Robert O'Connor of the Irish Cancer Society.

"From September, parents can protect both their boys and girls by ensuring they get the free HPV vaccine as part of the National Immunisation Programme. The Irish Cancer Society urges them to do so."

Laura Brennan
Prominent HPV activist Laura Brennan died from HPV-related cervical cancer 

What is HPV?
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a family of very common and highly contagious viruses that are spread through intimate skin to skin contact. 

How common is HPV in Ireland?
Almost everyone who is sexually active will get HPV at some point in their lives. Most people may never know they have been infected by HPV because, usually, it clears up by itself.

However, a small percentage of people do not clear the infection, which can remain dormant in their bodies. This can cause cancers in both men and women such as anal cancer in men and cervical and anal cancers in women.

In fact, HPV causes almost 99% of all cervical cancers and was the cause of the cancer that activist Laura Brennan died from. 

Is it preventable or is vaccination the only way?
Vaccination can help to prevent HPV infection. The National HPV Immunisation Programme is the first step in preventing some cancers caused by HPV. In the case of cervical cancer, the second step is through screening. 

What is the National HPV Immunisation Programme?
Since September 2019, boys and girls in their first year of secondary school have been offered the HPV vaccine as part of the school vaccination programme. The vaccine is offered to this age group because the response to the vaccine is best at this age. 

For more information on the National HPV Immunisation Programme please visit: