Nearly 70 percent of American adults are carrying the human papillomavirus but most of the viral strains infecting men and women are likely harmless and will remain dormant for years.

That's the reveal of a new NYU Langone Medical Center research effort that is being cited as the largest and most comprehensive genetic analysis of HPV infection.

The study states that 69 percent of American adults are infected with one or more of 109 strains of HPV, and that four of the 103 women and men had either of the two HPV infections that are known to cause cervical cancer, some throat cancers and genital warts.

"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," states senior study investigator and NYU Langone pathologist Zhiheng Pei, MD, PhD. Dr. Pei, an associate professor at NYU Langone, in a release on the study.

Lead study investigator and NYU Langone research scientist Yingfei Ma, PhD, says "the HPV 'community' in healthy people is surprisingly more vast and complex than previously thought, and much further monitoring and research is needed to determine how the various non-cancer-causing HPV genotypes interact with the cancer-causing strains, such as genotypes 16 and 18, and what causes these strains to trigger cancer."

The two-year study analyzed public data from the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project, which is gathering information on microorganisms' effects on human health.

Pei said Americans should not be seriously concerned but should consult a doctor to assess any potential threat before embarking on an antiviral therapy.

He also recommends vaccinations. The Food and Drug Administration has approved two HPV vaccines, Gardasilis for the prevention of cervical, anal, vulvar and vaginal cancer, as well as genital warts and Cervarix for prevention of cervical cancer and precancerous cervical lesions caused by HPV infection. 

According to the study most participants assessed had HPV infections in the skin, vagina, mouth and stomach.

The research team plans to investigate which non-cancer-causing HPV types may play a role in cancers of the cervix, mouth and skin and hopes to develop better diagnostic tests.

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