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One in four US women have human papilloma virus infection

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 08 March 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:501

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is thought to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the developed world. Types 6 and 11 cause genital warts. Types 16 and 18 cause cervical and other genital cancers. Last year, the US Food and Drugs Administration approved a vaccine that protects against all four. To get a baseline snapshot of the prevalence of these infections before the vaccine, researchers asked a representative sample of 1921 American girls and women to take their own vaginal swab during a national health survey in 2003-4. They were aged between 14 and 59.

A quarter (27%) of the swabs contained viral DNA from one of the many human papilloma virus types. One in six (15%) contained DNA from high risk oncogenic viruses, and 18% contained low risk types such as HPV types 6 and 11. Only 3% of those surveyed were infected with a type covered by the new vaccine. Risk of infection with any type peaked between the ages of 20 and 24.

The authors estimate that about 3 million girls and women across the United States were infected with HPV type 6, 11, 16, or 18 at the time of this survey. We don't know how many others had been infected in the past—most HPV infections clear within two years.


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