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Half of U.S. Men Have HPV

Nearly half of all American men are infected with the cancer-causing human papillomavirus, but unlike women, who are infected in similar numbers, men are more likely to stay infected throughout their lives, according to a new study.
To gauge the prevalence of HPV infection in men, researchers analyzed data from nearly 1,900 men who took part in the 2013-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Samples from penile swabs were tested for the infection.
About 45 percent of men in this country are infected with the sexually transmitted disease, as are 45 percent of women. Among women, the prevalence of HPV infection drops to about 22 percent as they age, but it remains high among men, said lead researcher Jasmine Han, M.D., of the division of gynecologic oncology at Womack Army Medical Center, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“We don’t know why it stays high in men while it drops in women,” she said. “Among men it’s higher than expected.”
But she speculated the virus may remain in men because it lives in the penile glands, while in women, the virus is near the surface of the vagina, where it can be shed more easily.
A vaccine against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, has been available since 2009, but far too few people get it. Only about 11 percent of men and 33 percent of women have been vaccinated, Dr. Han said.
Roughly 79 million Americans are infected with some type of HPV, with about 50 percent of new infections occurring before age 24, the study authors said. Most people don’t know they have HPV, and many don’t develop health problems from it.
But HPV should not be taken lightly. More than 9,000 cases of HPV-related cancers occur in men each year. It is the cause of 63 percent of penile, 91 percent of anal, and 72 percent of oral and throat cancers, the researchers said. HPV among men is an indirect cause of cervical cancer in women. Dr. Han’s research found 1 in 4 men has an HPV strain linked to several of these cancers. The virus is also responsible for 90 percent of genital warts and can lead to tumors in the respiratory tract.
The CDC recommends that all boys and girls aged 11 to 12 get two doses of the HPV vaccine, but Dr. Han wants the HPV vaccine to be mandatory.
“We want our children to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine because it is a cancer vaccine,” Dr. Han said. “By getting vaccinated, you can prevent your sons and daughters from getting these HPV-associated cancers in later years.”


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