Oral HPV infections on the rise


2012-01-27 12:36

According to a new study, the prevalence of oral human papillomavirus (HPV) in the United States now stands at 6.0%. Thus, about 16 million Americans have oral HPV infection. The study also reported that the rate is higher in men than women.

The study was published online on January 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It was conducted as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009-2010, a statistically representative sample of the civilian non-institutionalized US population.

HPV is a virus that attacks the skin or mucous membranes. More than 40 different types of the virus have been reported and some types are more harmful than others. Some cause genital warts; types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases. The researchers noted that HPV infection is the principal cause of a distinct form of oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) squamous cell carcinoma that is increasing in incidence among men in the U.S. The purpose of the study was to determine the epidemiology of oral HPV infection. The study group was comprised of 5,579 men and women aged 14 to 69 years who were evaluated at mobile examination centers. Following a 30-second oral rinse and gargle with mouthwash, DNA from the cells obtained was analyzed.

The researchers found that the prevalence of oral HPV infection among men and women aged 14 to 69 years was 6.9%. The prevalence of the cancer-causing HPV type 16 was 1.0%. Oral HPV infections were found to have a peak prevalence among two age groups: individuals aged 30 to 34 years and those aged 60 to 64 years. Men had a significantly higher prevalence than women for any oral HPV infection (men: 10.1%; women: 3.6%. HPV infection was less common among those without (0.9%), compared to those with a history of any type of sexual contact (7.5%); furthermore, the prevalence increased with the number of sexual partners and the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Take Home Message:
The increase in oral HPV infections is most likely due to oral-genital sex, which has also increased in recent decades. The study points to the fact that the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease (STD) increases with the number of partners. Another important finding of the study is the relationship it found between cigarette smoking and HPV. On a positive note, although these results are alarming, most individuals infected with oral HPV will never develop an oropharyngeal cancer. In summary, to avoid an HPV infection, maintain a monogamous relationship with a non-infected partner and don’t smoke. For non-infected individuals, oral-genital sex has no harmful effects.

Reference: Journal of the American Medical Association

See Also: HPV testing recommended for all women over 30