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Oral HPV rates higher in men than women: What is HPV?

January 30, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Lauren Fant, left, 18, winces as she receives her third and final application of the HPV vaccine administered by nurse Stephanie Pearson at a doctor's office in Marietta, Ga. A new study finds that 7% of participating men and women ages 14 to 69 have oral HPV. The HPV vaccine is one recommended type of protection.
Lauren Fant, left, 18, winces as she receives her third and final application… (John Amis / Associated Press )

HPV infects the mouths of an estimated 7% of men and women from the ages of 14 to 69 in the U.S. -- and men have it at higher rates than women, according to a study out last week in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Just 3.6% of women studied for the paper had oral HPV, while 10.1% of men did. It's unclear why there's such a difference in infection rates, but it may have to do with oral sex practices, experts say. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides some information specifically related to HPV and men.) 

The findings may help explain why mouth and throat cancer rates have been climbing for nearly 25 years, according to the story by Times writer Shari Roan.

Human papillomavirus is the most common sexually transmitted disease, according to the CDC. It can infect a number of tissues, including the mouth, and more than 40 different types of the virus are known to infect the genitals. Because there are so many different types of the virus, it's possible to be infected with multiple strains at the same time.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the body often can fight off the infection before it causes warts -- and in any case, the two strains linked to cervical cancer typically don't cause warts, which may be why many people don't even realize they have it. 

There are a few options for prevention, such as using condoms (though this does not protect against all forms of HPV) and vaccination (which protects against the viruses that cause most genital warts, as well as those most likely to cause cervical cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic).

Keep in mind, though, that even a vaccination doesn't provide absolute protection. A study I blogged about earlier this month found that a few girls erroneously believe that the HPV vaccineprotects against other STDs too.

Click to read the full story on the recent results.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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