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69 percent of Americans have HPV, Study Reports

Update Date: May 20, 2014 10:47 AM EDT

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that could potentially lead to cervical cancer. In a new study, researchers from the New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center and other facilities examined the infection rates of HPV in healthy Americans. They found that 69 percent of American adults had been infected with at least one of the 109 strains of HPV identified in this study at some point in their life. Only four out of the 103 men and women participants had one of the two types of HPV strains tied to causing cervical cancer, genital warts and some throat cancers.

"Our study offers initial and broad evidence of a seemingly 'normal' HPV viral biome in people that does not necessarily cause disease and that could very well mimic the highly varied bacterial environment in the body, or microbiome, which is key to maintaining good health," stated senior study investigator and NYU Langone pathologist Zhiheng Pei, MD, PhD., an associate professor at NYU Langone.

For this two-year-long study, the research team examined public data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project. The project gathers information on the effects that microorganisms have on human health. The information used in this study included 748 tissue swabs taken from major organs of the body of healthy volunteers, which included that skin, vagina, mouth and gut. The volunteers were between the ages of 18 and 80. The NIH project had used a DNA decoding technique to sort through the genetic material.

The researchers of this study looked for HPV strains only in the 103 participants. Out of a total of 71 HPV-infected participants, 42 had HPV in one organ, 22 had HPV in two organs and seven had it in three organs. They found that 61 percent of HPV infections were found in the skin, 41 percent in the vagina, 30 percent in the mouth and 17 percent in the gut. The team identified 109 out of the 148 known strains of HPV in the participants.

"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," lead study investigator and NYU Langone research scientist, Yingfei Ma, PhD, stated.

The findings will be presented in Boston, MA at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

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