Sixty-nine percent of a representative sample of people in the United States were found to have one or more of the 148 known forms of human papillomavirus (HPV). The results were produced by Dr. Zhiheng Pei at NYU Langone Medical Center based on a National Institutes of Health program. The study was presented at the May 20, 2014, session of the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston.
The majority of human papillomavirus strains do not cause cancer. Only two known strains that are transmitted sexually are known to cause cervical cancer. All known variants of human papillomavirus are transmitted to other humans by physical contact. The most frequent form of transmission is skin to skin contact.
The participants in the study ranged from 18 to 80 years in age. HPV infections of the skin were most common, followed by a 41 percent infection of the vagina, a 30 percent infection of the mouth, and a 17 percent infection of the gut. The variety of strains of human papillomavirus followed similar patterns in the same locations in all participants that had any strain of human papillomavirus. Fifty-nine percent of the participants had HPV in one organ, 31 percent had HPV in two organs, and 10 percent had HPV in three organs.
The research is the first to discover that some strains of HPV have a protective role in human biology and health. The research also indicates that present testing methods for all strains of HPV only cover eight percent of the known strains of HPV. The long-term health effects of most strains of HPV are not known but are presently considered benign.
The prevalence of HPV in a random sample of people is just an indication of the mutation potential of HPV. The researchers strongly recommend that women and men be vaccinated against the known strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer, oral cancer, and skin cancer. A potential does exist that a presently benign form of HPV could become virulent in the future.