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High Rate of HPV Found in Men in the United States

JAN 20, 2017 | CONTAGION EDITORIAL STAFF
A new study published today in JAMA Oncology is providing evidence that almost half of the men in America are possibly infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) and that vaccination coverage among men who are vaccine-eligible is low (at about 11%).

Researcher, Jasmine Han, MD, who works in the division of gynecological oncology at the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina worked with colleagues to review penile swab samples tested for HPV taken from 1,868 men “who took part in the 2013 to 2014 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” according to a press release on the study.

According to the study results, “45.2% of the men were infected with HPV. Among vaccine-eligible men, however, only 10.7% had been vaccinated.” The lowest rates of prevalence of HPV was in men aged 18 to 22 (28.9%), which the researchers concede may be a direct result of vaccination in this population. This rate jumped to 46.5% in men ages 23 to 27, and continued to increase thereafter as the age of the men increased. The reason for this is unknown, but Dr. Han speculates that, “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 and is more easily shed.”

The authors on the study are quoted in the press release as stating, “The overall genital HPV infection prevalence appears to be widespread among all age groups of men, and the HPV vaccination coverage is low. Male HPV vaccination may have a greater effect on HPV transmission and cancer prevention in men and women than previously estimated.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 4 individuals in the United States is infected with some form of HPV. To prevent the spread of the virus, it is recommended that all children 11-12 years of age receive two shots of the HPV vaccine, 6 to 12 months apart. Vaccination is particularly important because most cases of infection are asymptomatic and therefore, individuals may unknowingly spread the virus.

Perhaps a more important reason to be vaccinated against HPV is that the virus has been linked to several cancers, including cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. According to the CDC, “HPV infection can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).”

Not only are HPV infections in men responsible for “9000 cases of HPV-related cancers” per year, but the infection in men is also “an indirect cause of cervical cancer in women.”

"We want our children to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine because it is a cancer vaccine. By getting vaccinated, you can prevent your sons and daughters from getting these HPV-associated cancers in later years," stated Dr. Han in the press release.

Recent studies have shown that there are a number of missed opportunities for administering the HPV vaccine that exist in the United States. These missed opportunities are defined as any clinical visit during which a patient received a vaccine but not did receive the HPV vaccine. Through continued education and increased awareness of the dangers of this infection health experts hope that more individuals will get vaccinated and bring us one step closer to eradicating HPV. 
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