Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In college, my friends and I joked that everyone has it, and no one knows it yet. In reality, two in five Americans have HPV and 14 million contract the infection annually.
Most people find out they have HPV through cancer screenings. A few people develop HPV symptoms—typically genital warts. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, and oropharynx, anal, vaginal, and penile cancers are linked to HPV.
Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with HPV-associated cancers annually. Even with so many new infections, HPV awareness is declining and this likely limits the number of Americans who might be vaccinated against HPV.
Onyema Greg Chido-Amajuoyi and a team of researchers analyzed HPV awareness rates from 2008 to 2018 and how they changed across the country by reviewing survey responses from the Health Information National Trends Survey. The researchers found differences in awareness by gender, income level, rural or urban area, and educational attainment.
The graph on the left shows the disparity in awareness based on gender. The orange line represents women, and the blue line, men. Women’s awareness peaked at 76.7%, while men’s never rose above 57.8% in 2013. In 2018, men’s awareness dropped to 49.8%.
The graph on the right shows differences in HPV awareness based on education level. Those with college and post-graduate degrees had steady awareness rates over time. People with a high school education or lower had half the awareness of college-level participants, and their understanding continues to drop.
The researchers suggest more programs for HPV awareness to raise recognition rates again. Programs for vaccine awareness and HPV risks worked 15 years ago and can work again. Specifically, programs should target younger groups, such as middle school students and their parents to learn about the effectiveness of vaccines. The research team recommends stricter enforcement of the legislation supporting HPV prevention that currently exists throughout the country.
Databyte via Onyema Greg Chido-Amajuoyi, Inimfon Jackson, Robert Yu, and Sanjay Shete. Declining awareness of HPV and HPV vaccine within the general US population. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, 2021.