Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. It’s so common that federal experts say that nearly every sexually active man or woman will be infected with at least one strain at some point in their lives.
HPV can infect many different parts of the body—not just the penis and vagina, but also the cervix, anus, throat and mouth. Most people won’t know they have an infection, since it doesn’t typically cause symptoms, and most infections go away on their own. But some strains can develop into genital warts or even cancer. About 30,700 men and women in the U.S. develop cancer from HPV every year.
A new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine took a closer look at oral HPV infections—most of which are spread through oral sex—by analyzing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011 to 2014. Currently, there is no federally-approved test for diagnosing HPV in men, or diagnosing oral HPV in general. (Oral HPV infections typically do not cause symptoms.) But in the study, a dental hygienist collected oral rinse samples from the people participating and sent the samples to a laboratory for testing. They found that one in nine U.S. men, or about 11 million in total, have an oral infection of the virus. For reasons that are still unclear, this type of HPV is much less common in women; only 3.2%, or 3.2 million women in America, had an oral HPV infection.
They also found that one of the riskiest strains of HPV known to cause cancer, HPV 16, was six times more common among men than women.