A new study reveals that rates of high risk HPV oral infection are lower than expected, and that smokers and individuals who are more sexually active are most risk of infection.
HPV oral infection has shown to be much lower in England than initially expected, compared to previous US studies.
Human papillomavirus is essentially a viral infection that is passed through skin-to-skin contact and can affect the genitals, mouth or throat.
Research conducted by the University of Sheffield, UK, has also reinforced evidence that smoking and sexual behaviour were highlighted as risk factors for oral HPV infection.
The number of oropharyngeal cancers are also increasing worldwide, which contributes to the increase in the rate of oral infection with high risk HPV.
Who is most at risk of HPV?
The study, which is the largest of its kind in England, studied 700 men and women, with the aim to look for high risk HPV infection, along with asking participants lifestyle-related questions regarding their tobacco use and sexual history.
Dr Vanessa Hearnden, from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield, said in an article on the university’s website: “This is the first study in the North of England and found lower rates of oral high-risk human papillomavirus infection.
“We fully support the newly announced HPV vaccination programme for boys which will reduce the risk of HPV related cancers including throat cancer in men and will also provide further prevention of cervical cancers through herd immunity.”
Although there are many variations of oral high risk HPV occurring worldwide, this particular study showed that 2.2% of individuals were infected with oral high risk HPV. In comparison to previous Scottish and US studies conducted, both found 3.7% of individuals were positive for oral high risk HPV.
Moreover, the study found that participants who have a greater number of sexual/oral sexual partners were more likely to be high risk HPV positive. Previous smokers are also more likely to be HPV positive compared to those who have never smoked.
What are common misconceptions to look out for?
“Many people associate the HPV virus with cervical cancer but there is less recognition of the fact that HPV causes oropharyngeal cancer, and unfortunately, the prevalence of this cancer has increased dramatically in the past few years,” says Dr Craig Murdoch, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry.
The study essentially confirms how important it is for an individual to take into account the role of lifestyle risk factors, especially when it comes to preventing high risk HPV.