HPV found in 30 percent of all men across the globe

While generally harmless in most cases, the CDC cautions that if the infections persist for more than two years, it could cause severe health problems such as cancer. 
Rupendra Brahambhatt
man sits with a doctor
30 of males globally carry HPV. Don't forget to get checked.

Pornpak Khunatorn/iStock  

When it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), most people are aware of diseases like AIDS, herpes, syphilis, and gonorrhea. 

However, many people may be unaware of the risks associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common STI affecting millions of humans annually. The US alone presently has 20 million HPV patients.

While the infection is generally harmless in 90 percent of cases, resolving without any medical complications, the CDC cautions that if the infections persist for more than two years, it could cause severe health problems such as cancer. 

“HPV can cause cervical and other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat called oropharyngeal cancer,” the CDC notes. 

To assess the threat of HPV globally, a team of researchers reviewed numerous studies on the disease published between January 1995 and June 2022. Their analysis revealed that globally, 31 percent of men over 15 have one or the other type of HPV infection. 

What’s even more shocking is that 21 percent of men, i.e., every one in five, have high-risk HPV, which makes them and their sexual partners susceptible to cancer, according to the study. 

The risk of HPV is real

HPV can spread through sexual activity, including anal, oral, and vaginal sex. It can pass from one person to another via skin-to-skin contact with the infected genital area. The use of infected sex toys can also transmit the disease.

However, in most cases, people are unaware if they have the disease because there are no symptoms. HPV is not as dangerous as STIs like HIV, and there are vaccines available that offer strong protection against the infection in both men and women. 

In fact, a report from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) suggests that HPV vaccines can prevent more than 90 percent of HPV-linked cancers. However, most people are not even aware that HPV can cause cancer and underestimate its risk.

This is where the problem arises as many of these people forego vaccination. Currently, only about 54.5 percent of American adolescents have received the recommended HPV vaccine dose. 

“Given the connections between HPV-associated cancer awareness and HPV vaccination uptake, it is important we increase the population’s awareness of this link, as it may help increase vaccine uptake,” said Adjei Boakye, a cancer epidemiologist at AACR.

Awareness and vaccines can defeat HPV

There are multiple types of HPV infections but vaccines have the power to stop all kinds of threats that the virus poses. However, ignoring and underestimating the risk is the real danger in the case of HPV. 

The authors of the current study suggest that since the prevalence of HPV in men is very high, it is crucial to increase the participation of men in initiatives aimed at controlling HPV infections and lowering the occurrence of HPV-related diseases in both men and women.   

Moreover, data suggests that although more men carry HPV, the risk of HPV-linked cancer is way higher in women. For instance, the National Cancer Institute estimates that HPV causes cancer in 60,000 men and 570,000 women every year across the globe.  

Therefore, it is imperative for women to get fully vaccinated against the disease. The CDC recommends that women who are sexually active should also undergo regular screening for cervical cancer in order to prevent the occurrence of HPV-linked cancer.

“We must continue to look for opportunities to prevent HPV infection and to reduce the incidence of HPV-related disease in both men and women,” said Dr Meg Doherty, Director of WHO’s Global HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Programmes.

The study is published in the journal The Lancet Global Health.

Study Abstract:

The epidemiology of human papillomavirus (HPV) in women has been well documented. Less is known about the epidemiology of HPV in men. We aim to provide updated global and regional pooled overall, type-specific, and age-specific prevalence estimates of genital HPV infection in men. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the prevalence of genital HPV infection in the general male population. We searched Embase, Ovid MEDLINE, and the Global Index Medicus for studies published between Jan 1, 1995, and June 1, 2022. Inclusion criteria were population-based surveys in men aged 15 years or older or HPV prevalence studies with a sample size of at least 50 men with no HPV-related pathology or known risk factors for HPV infection that collected samples from anogenital sites and used PCR or hybrid capture 2 techniques for HPV DNA detection. Exclusion criteria were studies conducted among populations at increased risk of HPV infection, exclusively conducted among circumcised men, and based on urine or semen samples. We screened identified reports and extracted summary-level data from those that were eligible. Data were extracted by two researchers independently and reviewed by a third, and discrepancies were resolved by consensus. We extracted only data on mucosal α-genus HPVs. Global and regional age-specific prevalences for any HPV, high-risk (HR)-HPV, and individual HPV types were estimated using random-effects models for meta-analysis and grouped by UN Sustainable Development Goals geographical classification.

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