Study: HPV infects nearly half of U.S. population
One-in-five people have high-risk form of virus
Nearly half of the U.S. population has human papillomavirus, commonly known as HPV — making it the most commonly sexually transmitted infection, according to a new study by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Many people don’t know they have HPV unless they are tested, and the infection can clear up on its own. But high-risk types of HPV can lead to cancer in men and women — as many as 31,000 cases every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s startling,” said Dr. Geraldine McQuillan, lead author of the study. “One-in-five of us have high-risk HPV and we know that high-risk HPV can go on to cause cancer,” she said. Dr. McQuillan is a senior infectious disease epidemiologist for the National Center for Health Statistics.
“To me, that is a really startling finding and really drills down the message that we need to … take the one preventative measure that we have, which is to vaccinate our adolescents before they become sexually active,” said Dr. McQuillan. “This vaccine has been underutilized.”
A vaccine against certain types of high-risk HPV has been around for girls since 2006. Beginning in 2011, the CDC started to recommend boys between the ages of 11 and 12 also get the vaccine. Adolescents receive two shots, six months apart.
A study published in 2016 showed a 64 percent drop in HPV infections in girls after the vaccine was introduced.
Women who weren’t vaccinated as adolescents and aren’t infected are encouraged to get the vaccine up until the age of 26. For men, it’s until the age of 21. However, three shots are required, each six months apart.
There are 40 different types of HPV, which can be spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. About 42 percent of the U.S. population has any type of genital HPV and 7.3 percent have any type of oral HPV.
Typically, HPV is an asymptomatic infection, occasionally causing genital warts. But high-risk oral HPV can lead to head and neck cancers. High-risk genital HPV can lead to anal cancer, cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men.
When people are found to have high-risk HPV, the best thing they can do is have their physicians monitor them to make sure the infections do not develop into cancer, Dr. McQuillan said.
The most recent information on HPV is based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which administers more than 300 laboratory tests along with many other interview and examination data on 10,000 participants of all ages. Data are released every two years.
What makes the survey unique is that it is testing the general population.
“The NHANES is unique in the sense is that it’s a household-based survey,” Dr. McQuillan said. “What’s significant about this is it’s not people in STD clinics, not the homeless population — this is us. This is our next door neighbor, this is the general population, not the sick population … this is you and me.”
While researchers tested men and women for any type of oral HPV from 2011 to 2014, it wasn’t until 2013 that they started testing men for any type of genital HPV.
“For the first time we’ve added in men to the population. For 2013 and 2014 we asked men to do penile swabs, much to our amazement they said yes, and that’s why there is data for the total population. All our previous reports only looked at women,” Dr. McQuillan said.
In instances of oral and genital HPV, men had a higher rate of infection across age and race compared to women.
From 2013 to 2014, prevalence of any type of genital HPV in adults aged 18 to 59 was 45.2 percent in men and 39.9 percent in women. For high-risk genital HPV, it was 25.1 percent in men and 20.4 percent in women.