Two in every five people in the US carry Human Papilloma Virus

Latest estimates of the prevalence of the human papilloma virus (HPV) in the US were published this month. Among the adult population, genital HPV was identified in 45% of men and 40% of women. The prevalence of oral HPV was 11.5% among men and 3.3% among women.

Human Papilloma Virus. Credit: Liya Graphics / Shutterstock.com

HPV is a large group of viruses that live on the skin and moist membranes lining the body. There are more than 100 different types of HPV and around 30 of them specifically affect the genital area. Most HPV infections are asymptomatic and clear spontaneously. Some low-risk strains of genital HPV, however, cause genital warts. More worrying are those HPV strains associated with a higher risk that can cause cancer. Genital HPV is highly contagious and is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

A HPV vaccine is available for girls aged 12‑13 years to protect them against the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer and from the age of 25 years women are routinely screened for early signs of cervical cancer.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published estimates of the prevalence of HPV in the US based on the findings of The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Participants in the survey underwent a physical examination, which included swabs from the genitals and from the mouth. The collected samples were then tested for the DNA of 37 types of oral and genital HPV, including 14 high-risk HPV strains.

They reported that, among US adults aged between 18 and 69 years, 43% are infected with a genital HPV and 7% are infected with an oral HPV. The prevalence of high-risk strains was found to be 23% for genital HPV and 4% for oral HPV.

Both oral and genital HPV infections were more common in men than in women. Rates of HPV infection were lowest among non-Hispanic Asian adults.

In contrast, the prevalence of HPV was highest among non-Hispanic black adults. Although the proportions of white adults with HPV were also above those seen for the population as a whole, there was no significant difference in HPV prevalences between non-Hispanic white adults and Hispanic adults.

The researchers highlighted that these data represent conservative estimates as the NHANES did not include populations that may be considered to be at higher risk of acquiring HPV, such as those who were institutionalized, incarcerated, or injection-drug users.

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