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Over two-thirds of Americans are now infected with HPV

Teresa Tanoos's picture
HPV now in more than two-thirds of Americans

Over two-thirds of Americans are currently infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), according to researchers who presented the findings of a new survey at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

On the bright side, the researchers reported that the majority of these Americans with HPV have benign types of the virus, such as those that cause harmless warts, which can actually be beneficial by helping to stave off the progression of more harmful types of the virus that can cause cancer.

With at least 109 different types of HPV that have been discovered to cause warts and lesions, two of them are known to cause cancer – HPV 16 and HPV 18 – both of which can result in cancers of the anus, cervix and penis, including cancers of the mouth and throat.

Other types of the human papillomavirus, such as HPV 6 and HPV 11, are known to trigger genital warts and other lesions. Vaccinations exist to help prevent anywhere from two to four of these types of virus.

Currently, all children are recommended to get these vaccinations.
For the study, researchers from New York University’s Langone Medical Center conducted a survey of tissue samples, which they took from the genitals, guts, mouths and skin of 103 healthy men and women.

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As a result, the research team discovered that 69 percent of the study participants had one or more of the 109 known types of HPV. Only four were infected with either HPV 16 or HPV 18

Among all the participants, 61 percent of them were infected with HPV on their skin, whereas 41 percent had the infection in the vagina, with 30 percent having it in the mouth and 17 percent in the gut.

Yigfei Ma, one of the researchers involved in the study, issued a statement that expressed surprise over the vastness and complexity of the “HPV community” in healthy people, adding that additional research is necessary in order to find out “how the various non-cancer-causing HPV genotypes interact with the cancer-causing strains, such as genotypes 16 and 18, and what causes these strains to trigger cancer.”

Researchers who have studied the so-called “HPV community”, also known as a microbiome, are finding that the populations of bacteria, yeast and viruses residing on the inside and outside of our bodies appear to aid digestion and help with keeping disease-causing bacteria at bay, while also having an effect on obesity, cancer and mental health.

As Pei put it, their study provides a wide range of evidence showing that an apparently normal HPV viral biome in people doesn’t always lead to disease and may instead “very well mimic the highly varied bacterial environment in the body, or microbiome,” which Pei said is the key to good health.

Each year, some 14 million people become newly infected with the cancer-causing types of HPV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency also reports that the majority of sexually active people will end up getting at least one type of HPV at some time in their lives, although the infections will likely clear up without resulting in any harm.

1. New York University Langone Medical Center, Press Release: Study Suggests More Than Two-Thirds of Healthy Americans Are Infected with Human Papilloma Viruses, published May 20, 2014.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet, accessed May 20, 2014.