Nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults between ages 18 and 59 are infected with genital human papillomavirus (HPV), and more than one in five have one of the high-risk strains of HPV that cause cervical and other forms of cancer, the CDC announced in a report released last week.
The prevalence of genital HPV was highest among adult men ages 18 to 59, of whom 25 percent were infected. (The rate among women wasn’t much lower—20 percent.) Among individual ethnic groups, non-Hispanic Asian adults of both genders had the lowest HPV rates, while black men had the highest.
Additionally, 7 percent of all adults had HPV in the mouth and throat. The same high-risk strains that can cause cervical cancer can also cause cancers of the head and neck (more than half of those infected with oral HPV had these high-risk strains.) Men were almost four times as likely to be infected with oral HPV as women, with the highest rates (16 percent) among non-Hispanic black men. Non-Hispanic Asian women had the lowest rates (about 2 percent).
The CDC cautioned that its report may underestimate the prevalence of HPV infection because it does not include information from populations considered at higher risk, such as those who are institutionalized or incarcerated.
The most common sexually transmitted infection in the country, HPV causes genital warts and causes most cases of cervical cancer. It can also lead to cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, and anus. Oral HPV, which is transmitted through oral sex, has increasingly become recognized as a cause of oropharangyl cancer (cancer of the throat, tonsils, and neck).
In addition to taking the usual measures to prevent STDs, an important way to prevent the spread of HPV is the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is strongly recommended for both boys and girls beginning around age 11 or 12 and can be given as late as age 26. The HPV vaccine has reduced the prevalence of HPV infection among 14 to 19 year olds in the U.S. by over 60 percent since mid-2006, according to a study published in 2016 in Pediatrics. In some countries, the introduction of the vaccine is already reducing the incidence of cervical cancer.
Also see The Value of the HPV Vaccine.