From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Half of men infected with human papilloma virus

HPV causes warts and cancer

Around half of men are infected with the human papilloma virus, according to a new study.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name given to a family of viruses that affect the skin and the moist membranes that line parts of the body, such as those found in the cervix, anus, mouth and throat.

Most of the 100 different strains of HPV which infect humans do so without any symptoms. However, some of the strains can cause genital warts, and others can lead to cervical and oral cancers.

The study analysed 1159 men aged 18 to 70 from the US, Brazil, and Mexico, all of whom were HIV negative and had no history of cancer. All were assessed every six months for an average of more than two years.

Approximately fifty per cent of the men sampled were infected with HPV. The study also found that six per cent of men became infected with HPV 16 each year, a strain that causes cervical cancer in women and other cancers in men.

The average time someone was infected - and could pass on an infection to a sexual partner - was 7.5 months for HPV in general, and 12 months for the strain which can cause cancer, HPV16.

The risk of being infected with HPV also increased according to the number of sexual partners someone had, researchers from the H Lee Moffit Cancer Centre and Research Institute in Florida found.

Men who had 50 or more female partners in their lifetime were 2.4 times more likely to be infected with the cancer causing HPV strain than men with no partners or just one partner.

And men who'd had at least three male partners were 2.6 times more likley to be infected with HPV16 compared with no recent partners.

In the UK, all 12-14 year old schoolgirls are offered the Cervarix HPV vaccine on the NHS which protects against HPV 16 and HPV 18 - which cause around 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

Sexual health experts have called for the vaccine to be switched to one which also protects against the strains HPV6 and HPV11, which are behind most of the 90,000 cases of genital warts diagnosed in the UK each year.

The study findings also support doctors who have been calling for a HPV vaccination programme for boys.

Professor Anna Giuliano said: "The incidence of genital infection in men was high and relatively constant across age groups in Brazil, Mexico, and the USA.

"The results from this study provide much needed data about the incidence and clearance of HPV infection in men; these data are essential for the development of realistic cost-effectiveness models for male HPV vaccination internationally."

This article was published on Tue 1 March 2011