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What is the history of HPV in America and other countries?

Updated May 27, 2023

disease history

The first recorded research linking a sexually transmitted disease to cervical cancer dates back to an 1842 study by Rigoni-Stern, an Italian physician. After reviewing 80 years of female death certificates, he noted that cervical cancer deaths almost exclusively occurred in married or widowed women, and prostitutes.  Early cervical cancer research focused on the Herpes Simplex II virus    but this theory was disproven in 1984. 

In 1965, the first published HPV study characterized its DNA.  Prior to 1965, papillomavirus studies focused on rabbit papillomavirus and its association to cancer.  During the 1970’s, more than one type of HPV was recognized and by 1972, work was underway to evaluate an association between HPV and cervical cancer. 

In 1982, several studies associating HPV type 6 with genital warts, but not cervical cancer, were published.  In 1983, HPV type 16 was identified in cervical cancer cells.  A year later, HPV type 18 was linked to cervical cancer. 

HPV infections are endemic around the world and public health officials believe that it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US with an estimated 14 million new infections occurring annually.  Public health officials estimate that 79 million people in the US are infected with HPV, a common infection in adolescents and young adults. 

Prevalence in U.S. Women – A 2007 study of female HPV prevalence reported that 26.8 percent of 14 to 59-year olds were infected but, among 20 to 24-year olds, 44.8 percent were infected. Low-risk HPV types 6 and 11 and high-risk HPV types 16 and 18 detected in 3.4 percent of females evaluated in the study. Researchers concluded that:  

  • Although HPV infection is common, studies suggest approximately 90 percent of infections clear within 2 years,
  • HPV is common among U.S. females but the prevalence of the HPV types contained in the vaccine is relatively low, and
  • High-risk HPV types are detected in 99 percent of cervical cancers and worldwide, approximately 70 percent of cervical cancers are due to HPV types 16 and 18.

In the early 1960’s, after Pap smear tests to screen for cancerous conditions became a routine part of women’s gynecological health care in the US, cases of HPV-associated cervical cancer dropped by 75 percent.  By 2006, the year Gardasil came to market, because of Pap test screening, new annual cervical cancer cases declined to about 9,700 and deaths to about 3,700 within a US population of more than 300 million. 

Prevalence in U.S. Men - A 2006 review of 40 HPV prevalence studies found that, among U.S. males, prevalence rates ranged from 1.3 to 72.9 percent. The researchers concluded that:  

  • Data on the frequency of acquisition and the duration of HPV infection in men are limited,
  • HPV prevalence rates in men vary widely and have been reported to be as high as what has been reported in women, and
  • Screening for HPV infection in men is not routinely recommended because infection is very common, no FDA-approved screening test is available and HPV infection does not increase the risk of disease or cancer in men or their sex partners.

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about HPV and the HPV vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.

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