The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just reported some upsettingly high numbers of human papillomavirus (HPV) in adults. In data retrieved from 2013–2014, 22.7% of US adults in the 18–59 range were found to have the types of high-risk genital HPV that cause certain cancers.
That number jumps to 42.5% if all types of genital HPV within that age group are included, which makes sense as HPV is the most common STIs (sexually transmitted infections). Males make up a whopping 45.2% of those infected, as Invisiverse reported back in January.
HPV is so common that the CDC says "nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives," and includes genital and oral HPV. This is why it is critical to get vaccinated, especially for, as the CDC recommends, children who are 11–12 years old.
HPV is not a singular virus, but a "group of more than 200 related viruses." These viruses have two separate categories, low-risk and high-risk. Low-risk HPVs are not life-threatening and simply can cause skin warts. High-risk HPVs can lead to cancer.
While HPV infections normally go away within about two years, in about 10% of women, high-risk HPVs linger and may cause cancer. So far, about 13 high-risk HPVs have been identified. Although HPV occasionally causes symptoms such as the aforementioned genital warts, part of its danger lies in the fact that most people do not get any symptoms.
The general public tends think of HPV as a harmless STI, but it can cause cervical, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, throat, and oropharyngeal cancer. Simple vaccination, however, could prevent as many as 28,000 of the 30,700 cancer cases caused by HPV annually.
The HPV vaccine, Gardasil for men and women, or Cervarix for only women, works the same as other immunizations. HPV becomes cancerous, according to the Mayo Clinic, when the lingering HPV virus begins converting normal cells into cancerous cells. The HPV vaccine guards against this by using "strongly immunogenic" virus-like particles that "lack the virus's DNA." The body then produces antibodies that will be able to fight off actual HPV in the future. Gardasil has proved to be effective against 70% of cervical cancer.
With over 80 million people infected with HPV, and 14 million more contracting the disease every year, it is crucial for the vaccine to be introduced early. However, women can still be vaccinated until age 26, and men until age 21.
Geraldine McQuillan, a senior infectious disease epidemiologist in the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, and the lead author of the report published on April 6, 2017, urged awareness about HPV, stating: "We tend to overlook the fact that 20% of us are carrying the virus that can cause cancer. People really need to realize that this is a serious concern."
The CDC data report also says that from 2011–2014, 7.3% of adults aged 18–69 had an oral HPV, while 4% were at high risk for cancer. Men are much more likely to have oral HPV than women. For a celebrity example, Michael Douglas developed stage four tongue cancer after acquiring HPV from oral sex, but has been tumor-free since 2011.
For encouragement to stay proactive, and as a #ThrowbackThursday, here's a video of the old Gardasil commercials that used to get stuck in my head all the time (O-N-E L-E-S-S! I wanna be one less!). Hopefully some millennials can relate.
For tips on lessening your chances of getting HPV, check out our past coverage.