HPV infection rates are lower than expected, the University of Sheffield has discovered.

The study found 2.2% of people have the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Previous studies in Scotland and the USA found infection rates to be at around 3.7%.

‘Previous studies have been US-focused or in smaller UK studies in London or Scotland,’ Dr Vanessa Hearnden, from the department of materials science and engineering at the University of Sheffield, said.

‘This is the first study in the north of England and found lower rates of oral high-risk human papillomavirus infection.

‘We support the newly announced HPV vaccination programme for boys, which will reduce the risk of HPV related cancers including throat cancer in men and will provide further prevention of cervical cancers through herd immunity.

‘However, we found the majority of individuals testing positive for high risk strains of HPV were positive for strains other than those covered by the current vaccine (HPV 16 and HPV 18).

‘This shows the need to consider newer vaccines that protect against HPV strains in the future.’

Risk factors

Smoking and sexual behaviour are risk factors for oral HPV infection, the study also confirmed.

Former smokers are significantly more likely to contract HPV compared with those who have never smoked.

Those with a greater number of sexual or oral sexual partners are more likely to be HPV positive too.

‘This study confirms the importance of lifestyle risk factors in prevention of the disease and sheds new light on the rates of oral HR-HPV infection,’ Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs for World Cancer Research Fund International, said.


HPV vaccine

UK Government advisers have recommended extending funding for human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines to boys.

Scottish Government advisers have already moved to say they will implement a HPV vaccination programme for boys in Scotland.

‘I am pleased to announce that the Scottish Government will implement a HPV vaccination programme for adolescent boys in Scotland,’ Public Health Minister, Joe FitzPatrick, said.

‘We know from the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) that this will help reduce diagnoses of HPV related cancers and save lives in years to come.

‘Work to develop the programme will now begin, in conjunction with Health Protection Scotland and NHS Scotland, to be rolled out as soon as is practicable.’