Let’s talk about the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Rotunda Hospital, Dr. Vicky O’Dwyer sat with us to answer common questions related to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Click on each question to watch Dr. O’Dwyer’s video response.

What is HPV?

Doctor Vicky O'Dwyer, expert speaker for Debunking the myths: the science behind our sexual health the irish sexual health education outreach workshops for TY, 5th and 6th years.
Doctor Vicky O’Dwyer, expert speaker for Debunking the Myths: the Science Behind our Sexual Health

HPV is a family of more than 100 viruses that are passed on through skin-to-skin contact, in particular during sexual activity (including oral sex). Only a small number of types can change cells from normal to abnormal, leading to cancer. These are called high-risk HPV. The two most common high-risk HPV are HPV-16 and HPV- 18. Most people will get HPV infection in their lifetime. Usually the immune system is able to fight against the infection and clear it out in two years. In some cases, the infection persists and causes cancer. For some people we don’t know the reason why, while in other cases it relates to the fact that the person is a smoker or has a compromised immune system.

Can both boys and girls get HPV?

Yes, both boys and girls can get HPV. People can generally contract the HPV through skin-to-skin contact during sexual activities (this includes vaginal, anal, or oral sex). This is why the HSE offers the HPV vaccine to all children during the first year of secondary school. It covers the lower risk HPV such as HPV-6 AND HPV-11 (which cause genital warts) as well as the higher risk cancer causing HPVs, HPV-16 and HPV-18, protecting against genital warts, cervical cancer and other cancers.

Will I be checked for HPV?

There is a screening programme through CervicalCheck, through which women can access a screening test from the age of 25. It can be accessed through the CervicalCheck website. After registering on the system, you will get a free test. The test can take place in your GP or any women’s health clinic. You will do a screening initially every 3 years, then moving on to every 5 years from the age of 30 up until the age of 65 years.

What happens during a HPV test/Smear test?

The Doctor will place a plastic speculum into the vagina, it doesn’t hurt. It’s then opened slightly so the cervix is visible at the top of the vagina. They will then insert a soft brush and rotate it 5 times on the cervix. This picks up cells and will also pick up the HPV if it is present.

You will receive your results around eight weeks later.

What happens if I get a positive result?

80% of us will get HPV at some point in our life. If you do receive a positive test result, you will repeat the test a year later in order to give your immune system a chance to fight of the virus. It is unlikely that you will develop abnormal cells within that year.

If your second test result is positive again, you will get a referral to see a doctor in the Colposcopy Clinic. You will undergo a test similar to the HPV test to look at your cervix. This doesn’t hurt and is a safe test and for most people this is as much as they need, to know that they don’t have cancer.


Debunking the Myths – The Science behind Our Sexual Health is a series of expert-led workshops and interactive tools for teenagers focused on sexual health. It is developed by the RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in collaboration with the Rotunda Hospital to supplement the Relationship Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum.

The aim of the project is to provide clear and factual information in relation to sexual health and stimulate open discussion and curiosity around the topic. For more information visit Debunking the Myths on Instagram or TikTok.

For more information, visit the dedicated page on the HSE website, and the WISER website.