Background: In order to be widely accepted by users, the implementation of a new health intervention requires them to be adequately informed about its clinical importance, benefits and risks. The aim of this study was to provide data on the knowledge of Italian adolescents and parents concerning human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and its prevention in order to allow the development of adequate training programmes.
Methods: Between 2 May and 15 June 2008, we made a cross-sectional survey of 863 high school students and 2,331 parents of middle and high school students using two anonymously completed questionnaires covering the knowledge of HPV infection and related diseases, and attitudes to vaccinations. The approached schools were a convenience sample of the schools of the greater Milan area, Northern Italy.
Results: More mothers than fathers were aware that HPV infection could concern their children (58% vs 53%; p = 0.004) and were favourable towards vaccinating their children against HPV (68% vs 65%; p = 0.03); among the students, more females than males were aware that HPV infection could concern themselves (45% vs 26%; p < 0.001) and would undergo vaccination against HPV (68% vs 40%; p < 0.001). The parents' propensity to vaccinate their children against HPV was significantly associated with professing the Catholic religion (odds ratio - OR = 0.61, 95% confidence interval - CI 0.46-0.82, being atheist), the gender of the offspring (OR = 1.88, 95% CI 1.53-2.30, having at least one daughter), a propensity to vaccinations in general (OR = 23.1, 95% CI 13.7-38.8), a knowledge that HPV vaccine is aimed at preventing cervical cancer (OR = 2.31, 95% CI 1.69-3.16), and an awareness that HPV could affect their own children (OR = 3.52, 95% CI 2.89-4.29). The students who were aware that HPV infection could affect themselves were more in favour of to HPV vaccination, regardless of whether they were male (OR = 5.73, 95% CI 2.85-11.5) or female (OR = 2.39, 95% CI 1.66-3.46).
Conclusions: Both students and parents seem to underestimate the likelihood of HPV infection, and this is associated with a lower propensity for vaccination. This is an important indication for future training programmes concerning HPV prevention designed to increase the acceptance of HPV vaccine in families.