An alarming new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that close to 23 percent of US adults, ranging in age from 18 to 59, carry a dangerous, high-risk strain of genital human papillomavirus (HIV) that could lead to different types of cancer.
Documentation from 2013 to 2014 listed those stats even higher, with numbers closer to 42 percent if any strain of genital HPV was involved, according to The Washington Post.
In both reports, genital HPV was found in guys (45.2 percent) more than in girls (39.9 percent), and there was an increase in genital HPV among black individuals in comparison to other races.
Geraldine McQuillan, lead author of the report and a senior infectious disease epidemiologist in the Division of Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, says,
We tend to overlook the fact that 20 percent of us are carrying the virus that can cause cancer. People really need to realize that this is a serious concern.
And she's right. The commonality of HPV across the United States is something that shouldn't be overlooked.
The CDC has reported that close to 80 million individuals are infected with the disease, with 14 million new people becoming infected yearly, regardless of whether you're a young teen or a middle-aged adult.
Though several strains of HPV are known for disappearing on their own, displaying no symptoms upon infection, other strains, like the one over a fifth of us apparently have, are capable of causing genital warts or cancer.
According to the CDC, 31,000 men and women are diagnosed with cancers related to HPV every single year. However, if those people had received the HPV vaccination, those diagnoses could have been avoided.
It's recommended an individual receives the vaccination at a young age — around 11 to 12 — before sexual intercourse becomes a part of their day-to-day lifestyle.
Electra Paskett, a cancer control researcher at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, thinks vaccination numbers are so low due to misunderstandings about HPV. Basically, to some, supporting the vaccine also seems like support for people to dabble in sex at a much earlier age.
"The way [the vaccine] was introduced in Australia and the United Kingdom was as a cancer vaccine, which is truly what it is," said Paskett. "It is a cancer vaccine."
More information from the CDC's new report directed its attention toward oral HPV infection as well. Though still existent, instances of oral HPV (7 percent of people ages 18 to 69) were fewer in comparison to genital HPV.
Similar to genital HPV, the rate of oral HPV in men was much higher than women, sitting at 11.5 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively.
If there's anything to take away from this CDC report, it's that HPV should not be taken lightly.
Even though there's an opportunity for the virus to leave your body on its own, you shouldn't run the risk of it escalating into a more dangerous disease, like cancer.
Citations: Prevalence of HPV in Adults Aged 18–69: United States, 2011–2014 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), More than 1 in 5 U.S. adults are infected with cancer-causing HPV, CDC report shows (Washington Post)