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1 in 3 men are infected with HPV: vaccination must also target the male population

HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted viral infection globally. There are over 200 types of sexually transmittable HPV, of which at least 12 are carcinogenic. Every year, over 340,000 women die from cervical cancer. In men, the infection often manifests as anogenital warts, increasing the HPV transmission rate. Also, HPV infection causes penile, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers (especially associated with the HPV 16 strain). Studies have shown that most sexually active men and women acquire at least one genital HPV infection in their lifetime.

The results obtained from a meta-analysis of 65 studies conducted in 35 countries indicate that almost one third of men over the age of 15 are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), and one in five carries the high-risk strains of HPV. The study, published in The Lancet Global Health, represents a significant argument in favor of vaccinating boys against HPV to prevent cancers and diseases associated with the infection in both women and men.

The new meta-analysis assessed the prevalence of genital HPV infections in the general male population based on studies published from 1995 to 2022. The main results obtained:

  • The combined global prevalence of HPV infection in men over 15 years old is 31%, and 21% for high-risk HPV.
  • Among the high-risk strains, HPV-16 proved to be the most widespread HPV genotype, with a prevalence of 5%.
  • HPV prevalence was highest among young adults, declining after the age of 50.
  • Between the ages of 25 and 29, 35% of men were identified with HPV infections.
  • Even in the youngest age group, prevalence is already high, reaching 28% in men aged 15 to 19.

This infection profile by age contrasts with the trends observed in women. Among the female population, HPV prevalence peaks immediately after the onset of sexual activity and decreases with age, with a slight increase observed around the age of 50-55, often coinciding with menopause.

Discrepancies were also identified based on geographic region. The combined prevalence of any type of HPV was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (37%), followed by Europe and North America (36%). The lowest prevalence was recorded in East and Southeast Asia (15%). These trends were also found in the case of high-risk HPV.

Another important conclusion of the study relates to the lack of data on HPV infection among the male population in certain parts of the world and the need to understand the real prevalence of HPV to inform prevention measures. Thus, vaccination schemes for male adolescents could be introduced into national programs, depending on dose availability and regional specifics.

The European Cancer Fighting Plan, launched in 2021, aims to vaccinate at least 90% of the female population against HPV by the age of 15 and to increase HPV vaccination rates in boys by 2030. In the third quarter of 2023, the Commission will present a recommendation of the Council of the European Union regarding vaccine-preventable cancers, including those associated with HPV. These efforts will include removing physical barriers to vaccination, targeted communication, and combating misinformation.

HPV vaccines have been available in the European Union (EU) since 2006, and currently, three prophylactic vaccines against HPV are authorized: a bivalent vaccine, a four-type HPV vaccine, and a nine-type HPV vaccine.

Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Health and Digital Executive Agency (HaDEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
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