One ninth of men in the US are infected with oral HPV, study shows

Around one in nine men in the US. are infected with oral human papillomavirus (HPV), according to a study led by researchers at the University of Florida.

Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock.com

The infection is much more common among men who have had many oral sexual partners, those who have had sex with men and those who are also infected with genital HPV.

Most people with HPV are unaware that they are infected, yet HPV can cause serious health problems including genital warts and cancer of the throat, anus, penis and vagina. The cancer most commonly associated with HPV is a form of head and neck cancer called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC), which is disproportionately prevalent among men.

Although a vaccination to help protect against HPV is available, uptake is uncommon and many men are beyond the age threshold for receiving the vaccine (26 years). Epidemiologic studies are therefore vital for guiding the development of alternative OPSCC prevention strategies.

For the current study, senior author Ashish Deshmukh and team analysed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to assess oral HPV prevalence and the concordance of oral and genital HPV infection among men and women living in the US.

As reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they found that the overall prevalence of oral HPV was significantly higher among men than among women, at 11.5% (11 million) versus 3.2% (3.2 million).

High-risk infection was also more common among men than women (7.3% versus 1.4%) and a cancer-causing strain of infection (HPV 16) was six times more prevalent among men (1.8% versus 0.3%). Oral HPV was four times more common among men who had a genital HPV infection, compared with men who did not, at 19.3% versus 4.4%.

Among men who reported having same-sex partners, 12.7% had a high-risk HPV infection and among those who reported having two or more same-sex oral sex partners, 22.2% had a high-risk infection.

Further analysis showed that the predicted probability of men having a high-risk oral HPV infection was 5.4% greater than among women.

Deshmukh and colleagues conclude that prioritising further research in this area is essential for the advancement of screening and early detection methods that will help to prevent head and neck cancer among this high-risk group.

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