HR-HPV oral infection rates in England are lower than expected

A study run by researchers from the University of Sheffield (Sheffield, UK) demonstrated that the infection rates of high risk human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) in England are lower than expected, compared with previous US studies. The study also strengthened evidence that smoking and sexual behavior are to be risk factors for the infection.

The study, consisting of 700 men and women, was the largest of its type in England. The researchers looked for HR-HPV infection whilst also asking participants lifestyle questions relating to tobacco use and sexual history. Vanessa Hearnden, from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield, mentioned: “Previous studies have been US-focused or in smaller UK studies in London or Scotland. This is the first study in the North of England and found lower rates of oral high-risk human papillomavirus infection.”

The study found that a total of 2.2% of people were infected with the oral HR-HPV infection with only 0.7% testing positive for HPV16 or HPV18. Whilst large variations in the HR-HPV frequency exist globally this study showed lower rates compared to Scottish and US studies that had both found 3.7% of individuals to be positive for the infection.

It was also observed that former smokers were significantly more likely to be HR-HPV positive in comparison with those who had never smoked. The study also found a positive correlation between the number of sexual/ oral sexual partners and testing positive for HR-HPV. Hearnden commented: “However, we found the majority of individuals testing positive for high risk strains of HPV were actually positive for strains other than those covered by the current vaccine (HPV 16 and HPV 18). This shows the need to consider newer vaccines which protect against more HPV strains in the future and for individuals to be aware of lifestyle risk factors such as number of sexual partners and tobacco use.”

The publishing of this research, funded by the World Cancer Research Fund UK, coincided with a new UK HPV vaccine program for boys, which aims to reduce the risk of HR-HPV related cancers. “We fully support the newly announced HPV vaccination program 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,” Hearnden continued.

“This study confirms the importance of lifestyle risk factors in prevention of the disease and sheds new light on the rates of oral HR-HPV infection in England.” Kate Allen, Executive Director of Science & Public Affairs for World Cancer Research Fund International, concluded.

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Source: Hearnden V, Murdoch C, D’Apice K, Duthie S, Hayward NJ, Powers HJ. Oral human papillomavirus infection in England and associated risk factors: a case–control study. BMJ Open. 8, e022497 (2018);


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