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Sex virus carried by 1 in 10 girls under 16

One in 10 girls under 16, the age of consent, has a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer, a government agency has found.

The Government is considering at what age girls should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) amid concern that immunising pre-teens would encourage under-age sex.

Research by the Health Protection Agency found that, from the age of 14, the risk of HPV infection rises sharply. Up to 14, less than five per cent are infected with HPV.

The report said the findings are likely to be an underestimate of infection rates because of problems with the test and the figures should be considered conservative.

There are almost 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the UK each year and another study by the agency found that vaccination could prevent 70 per cent of them.

But the vaccines must be administered before infection with HPV and so it is recommended to introduce an immunisation programme for girls from the age of 12.

The agency investigated 1,483 girls from the age of 10 to 29 and results were presented at its conference in Warwick yesterday.

Professor Pat Troop, chief executive of the agency, said: “This study is a valuable addition to our understanding of HPV infection.”