Seven Percent of Americans Infected with Oral HPV


The first national estimate of oral HPV infections in the United States registers at 7% of the population between 14-69 years of age according to a study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Between 2009 and 2010 5,500 people were tested for oral HPV through a 30 second gargle test that was part of a government health survey. Subjects gargled with mouthwash for 30 seconds and then the mouthwash was tested for human papilloma virus.

HPV 16, one of many strains of the human papilloma virus, is the strain most closely linked with oral cancer and is the most common cause of cancer of the cervix. 1% of the subjects in this study tested positive for HPV 16 which translates to a national statistic of 2 million Americans. These results show that many of the Americans infected with oral HPV do not get oral cancer nor are most of them infected with the type of HPV that causes cancer. While millions of people in the United States have oral HPV only about 15,000 each year develop oral cancer. This is significantly less than the number of people who are infected with HPV in their genital area suggesting there is something about the mouth that may help prevent infection.

The study found that HPV was more prevalent in men then women. People who reported having many sexual partners and those who reported engaging in oral sex also had a higher rate for testing positive for HPV. Other significant risk factors were smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Adults between the ages of 55-59 were the age group found to be most at risk for HPV infection.

Oral HPV can be difficult to detect if the infection is at the back of the mouth or tongue and in the throat. Symptoms include sore throat, ear pain, difficulty swallowing and swollen lymph nodes. Testing for oral HPV is often not done in medical practices due to high costs. The majority of oral HPV testing is completed for research purposes only.

It is hoped that the findings of this study will provide the catalyst for more research on how some infections may lead to cancer and development of testing and treatment of oral HPV before it develops into cancer. Further research on whether the HPV vaccination currently available will help prevent oral HPV is needed.


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