TIME Infectious Disease

HPV Infects Two-Thirds of Healthy Americans, Study Finds

Papilloma Virus BSIP—UIG via Getty Images

One of the largest studies of the human papillomavirus to date finds that 69% of healthy American adults have at least one strain of the virus, and 4% carried strains that could lead to cervical cancer

A new study has found that more than two-thirds of healthy American adults have been infected with at least one strain of human papillomavirus (HPV), but a “delicate balancing” act across 109 different strains frequently renders the sexually-transmitted disease dormant and harmless.

The study by researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center sampled DNA from 103 men and women, and found at least one strain of the virus in 69% of the subjects. Nearly 4% had one of two strains known to cause cervical cancer, throat cancer and genital warts.

The researchers also found that the various strains tend to interact and offset symptoms in a balancing act reminiscent of a bacterial environment.

“Our study offers initial and broad evidence of a seemingly ‘normal’ HPV viral biome in people that does not necessarily cause disease and that could very well mimic the highly varied bacterial environment in the body, or microbiome, which is key to maintaining good health,” said lead researcher Zhiheng Pei.

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