Over the course of a recent two-year period, nearly 23 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 59 were infected with the type of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) that puts a person at high risk of developing certain cancers, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The figure actually increases to more than 42 percent between 2013 and 2014 if all forms of genital HPV are included, according to the CDC report. As the Washington Post notes, the prevalence of HPV was higher in men than women in both groups, in addition to being far higher among blacks than other ethnic and racial groups. The report’s lead author Dr. Geraldine McQuillan, a senior infectious-disease epidemiologist in the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told the Post, “We tend to overlook the fact that 20 percent of us are carrying the virus that can cause cancer. People need to realize that this is a serious concern.”
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, the CDC notes that “nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.” Almost 80 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with the virus, according to CDC estimates, and nearly 14 million (including teens) become infected with HPV each year. In nine out of ten HPV infections, the virus goes away on its own and doesn’t cause health problems. But in other cases, the infection can linger and lead to health problems, including genital warts and cancer.
Each year, the virus causes 30,700 cancers in men and women, according to the CDC. However, the HPV vaccination can actually prevent most of those cancers — close to 28,000, at least — from occurring. As such, the CDC recommends all kids between the ages of 11 or 12 be vaccinated, though women can still be vaccinated up to age 26 and men through age 21.