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Over 70 percent of Americans have HPV

HPV present in most Americans
HPV present in most AmericansCartera Media

More than two-thirds of healthy Americans now have the human papillomavirus (HPV), said researchers at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology when they presented the results of a new survey released on Monday.

The good news is that most Americans infected with HPV have benign strains of the virus like those that cause harmless warts. These benign types can actually help to protect against more dangerous virus strains that cause cancer.

There are currently 109 different types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause warts and lesions. Two of them are known to cause cancer, HPV 16 and HPV 18, both of which can lead to cancers of the cervix, anus and penis, as well as the mouth and throat.

Other types of the virus, such as HPV 6 and HPV 11, can cause genital warts and other lesions. There are vaccines to help protect against these types of HPV, and it is currently recommended that all children get them.

A research team from New York University’s Langone Medical Center took tissue samples from the mouths, skin, genitals and guts of 103 male and female participants.

The team found that the majority – 69 percent of the study participants – had one or more of the 109 known types of human papillomavirus. Among them, only four were infected with HPV 16 or HPV 18

Of all the participants, 61 percent had HPV on their skin, whereas 41 percent had it in the vagina, 30 percent had it in the mouth, and 17 percent had it in the gut.

According to a statement from Yingei Ma, who was involved in the survey, “The HPV 'community' in healthy people is surprisingly more vast and complex than previously thought, and much further monitoring and research is needed to determine how the various non-cancer-causing HPV genotypes interact with the cancer-causing strains, such as genotypes 16 and 18, and what causes these strains to trigger cancer.”

Other researchers who have studied the so-called “HPV community”, which is also called a microbiome, are finding that the populations of bacteria, yeast and viruses that reside in and on our bodies help with digestion, keep disease-causing bacteria at bay, and also impact obesity, cancer and mental health.

The lead researcher, Dr. Zhiheng Pei, said that the survey provides a broad range of evidence that a seemingly normal HPV viral biome in a person doesn’t always lead to disease, and may instead “very well mimic the highly varied bacterial environment in the body, or microbiome,” which Pei said is the key to maintaining good health.

Around 14 million people become newly infected with the cancer-causing types of HPV each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which also reports that the majority of sexually active people will end up with at least one type of HPV at some point during their life – even though the infections will likely clear up without resulting in any harm.