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Ask the expert HPV
Last updated January 27, 2020. 1 minute read

How prevalent is HPV? Chances are good that you'll get it

“The data indicate that 80% of sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lives. However, most people never even know they have the virus. Additionally, only certain types of the virus are potentially cancerous.”

Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, MD

Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, is a board-certified infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Q. How prevalent is HPV?

A. HPV is a highly prevalent virus. The data indicate that 80% of sexually active people will contract HPV at some point in their lives. However, most people never even know they have the virus. Additionally, only certain types of the virus are potentially cancerous.

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I wouldn’t say that it’s that contagious, just that it’s very, very common. It’s a disease that affects the part of your body where there’s going to be skin-to-skin contact. The virus has evolved to spread in that manner; sexual contact is very easy for it to exploit. 

We are now trying to make HPV vaccination part of a child’s routine immunizations. We recommend vaccinating up to the age of 26. There is data that the vaccine is effective and protective up to the age of 45, but on a population level, we don’t recommend that everybody from 26 to 45 be vaccinated, because it doesn’t seem to be cost-effective based on where the burden of the disease is. If you’re over age 26, whether to get the vaccine is a shared decision-making process between you and your healthcare provider, depending upon your risk factors.