Human papillomavirus (HPV) Fact Sheet

Below is some information from a fact sheet on the Human papillomavirus (HPV) provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection is spread by direct (usually sexual) contact with an infected person.
  • About 80% of people will have a HPV infection in their lifetime, usually in their late teens of early twenties.
  • Most HPV infections clear naturally but some caused by high risk HPV types can progress to cervical
  • Two high risk HPV types (16 and 18) cause over 90% of cervical cancer.
  • HPV infection rates are rising rapidly among mand and women in high income countries
  • HPV has been linked to +90% anal cancer, 70% vaginal and vulvar cancers, 60% penile cancers, and over 70% oropharyngeal cancers.

Cervical cancer

  • Ireland has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in Western Europe.
  • Each year in Ireland
    • over 90 women die from cervical cancer
    • over 280 (many young) women need treatment (surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy) for invasive cervical cancer
  • over 6,500 women need hospital treatment for a precancerous form of cervical

HPV vaccine

  • There are three licensed HPV vaccines, Cervarix, Gardasil 4 and Gardasil 9.
  • HPV vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organization, the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the expert immunisation body in Ireland.
  • The HPV vaccine used in the HSE school HPV vaccination programme is HPV4 (Gardasil).
  • Gardasil provides protection against
    • two high risk HPV types (HPV 16 and 18) that cause 70% of cancers and precancers
    • two HPV types that cause 90% genital
  • Gardasil has been licensed worldwide since 2006. Gardasil is currently used in over 25 European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
  • By May 2016, over 220 million doses of Gardasil have been distributed worldwide, either as part of national immunisation programmes or by private
  • In Ireland more than 660,000 doses of Gardasil have been distributed and more than 220,000 girls have received the full vaccine course as part of the HSE school HPV vaccination programme.

Are HPV vaccines safe?

  • All vaccines must go through extensive safety testing before they are
  • Once in use, vaccine safety is continually monitored to identify side effects caused by the
  • Data is also collected on health conditions that happen after vaccination but are not caused by
  • The European Medicines Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and the World Health Organization continue to say HPV vaccines are safe with no known long term side effects.

What are the side effects?

The known side-effects are:

  • About 1  in 10 will get pain, swelling and redness at the injection site and/or
  • About 1  in 100 will get nausea, pain in the vaccinated arm and mild
  • About 1  in 1000 to 1 girl in 10,000 will get an itchy rash or hives.
  • Severe allergic reactions with difficulty breathing are very rare (about 1 in 1 million patients).
  • Occasionally patients faint after getting and injection. Meidcal advice is to sit down for 15 minutes after the vaccination. This should help prevent fainting.

Do HPV vaccines work?

  • HPV vaccines are more than 99% protective against infection with cancer causing HPV virus
  • HPV vaccines are most effective when given at the age of 12 to 13 years and will provide protection throughout
  • Precancerous growths of the cervix have been reduced by more than 50% in countries such as Australia, Denmark and

Why does the HSE request that only HSE information should be given to parents?

Parents should receive information that is

  • scientifically accurate and endorsed by national and international expert and regulatory bodies
  • in line with HIQA guidance “Communicating in Plain English” (July 2015).

The information in the HSE leaflet

  • includes all the known scientifically proven side effects from HPV vaccine
  • is prepared from the licensed documentation for the vaccine and provides links where parents can go to read further information
  • is presented in clear simple language and approved by the National Adult Literacy Agency so that it can be easily understood
  • provides link to further information on vaccine including the Patient Information Leaflet
The HSE strongly recommends HPV vaccination to prevent HPV related cancers. 

You can download the information for parents and guardians about the HPV vaccination here and you can read the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) for the Gardisil vaccination here.


You can view more information and a video about HPV from the HSE here.