Nearly half of US adults infected with genital HPV

Health experts believe that the reduction in HPV may lead to a commensurate drop in cervical cancer cases Getty Images

More than one in five U.S. adults are infected with a high-risk form of HPV, a shocking new CDC report reveals.

We already know that Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is very, very common.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is widely credited for helping reduce the rate of cervical cancer in the U.S. And when it comes to screening, it's done with a simple and painless pap smear, which should start at the age of 21 and occur every three to five years for the average woman. Almost 80 million people in the USA are now infected with the virus, according to CDC estimates, and nearly 14 million (including teens) become infected with HPV each year.

"We tend to overlook the fact that 20 percent of us are carrying the virus that can cause cancer", stated McQuillan, senior infectious disease epidemiologist in the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. Some type of HPV can cause genital warts and are considered low risk with a small chance for causing cancer.

"It's absolutely vital that all eligible young people receive the full course of the vaccine - taking preventive action against HPV is vital and could save a young person's life in years to come". It protects against nine types of HPV: seven that are responsible for 90 percent of cervical cancers and two that account for 90 percent of genital warts.

'People really need to realize that this is a serious concern'.

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Health experts reaffirm that vaccines are the best way to prevent HPV infection.

More than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the USA, and more than 4,000 of them will die of it. HPV is also linked to cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and back of the throat, tongue and tonsils, in men and women. The HPV vaccine is recommended for children ages 11 to 12 years old because it is most effective if given before a person becomes sexually active.

The research, which was funded by the Scottish government, looked at samples from more than 20,000 women, making it one of the largest population-based studies on the impact of the vaccine.

While vaccination rates have been increasing, they still lag for both boys and girls.

The vaccine is estimated to prevent 5,000 cancer deaths annually, said Dr. Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Public health advocates say they think the shift to a two-dose regimen could make a big difference in the number of adolescents who get all the necessary doses of the HPV vaccine. It's up to doctors to include the vaccine in the usual vaccine schedule, she said.

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