One in three men globally infected with genital HPV: Study

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Nearly one in three men over the age of 15 are infected with at least one genital human papillomavirus (HPV) type, and one in five carry one or more of high risk HPV types, according to a study published in The Lancet Global Health journal.

The research shows that men frequently harbour genital HPV infections and emphasises the importance of incorporating men in efforts to control HPV infection and reduce the incidence of related disease in both men and women.

HPV is a viral infection that commonly causes skin or mucous membrane growths (warts). There are over 100 varieties of HPV.

“This global study on the prevalence of genital HPV infection among men confirms how widespread HPV infection is. HPV infection with high-risk HPV types can cause genital warts and oral, penile and anal cancer in men,” said Meg Doherty, Director of WHO’s Global HIV,

Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Programs.

“We must continue to look for opportunities to prevent HPV infection and to reduce the incidence of HPV-related disease in both men and women,” Doherty said in a statement.

The systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the prevalence of genital HPV infection in the general male population based on studies published between 1995 and 2022.

The study found that global pooled prevalence was 31 per cent for any HPV and 21 per cent for high-risk HPV. HPV-16 was the most prevalent HPV genotype (5 per cent ) followed by HPV-6 (4 per cent ). HPV prevalence was high in young adults, reaching a maximum between the ages of 25 years and 29 years, and stabilised or slightly decreased thereafter, the researchers said.

Pooled prevalence estimates were similar for the UN Sustainable Development Goal geographical regions of Europe and Northern America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Australia and New Zealand (Oceania), they said.

The estimates for Eastern and South-Eastern Asia were half that of the other regions, according to the researchers.

The majority of HPV infections in men and women are asymptomatic, but they can lead to long-term sequelae and mortality. Each year, more than 340,000 women die of cervical cancer, they said.

In men, HPV infection tends to manifest clinically as anogenital warts, which cause significant morbidity and increase HPV transmission rates, the researchers said.

HPV infections are also associated with penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancers, which are commonly linked to HPV type 16, they said.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimated that there were about 69,400 cases of cancer in men caused by HPV in 2018.