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Nearly half of American men have genital HPV infections (gulp)

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

U.S. men need to be getting the HPV vaccine, stat

Almost half (45 percent) of American men have a genital human papillomavirus infection, which should be something of concern for any person in the U.S. who is having — or going to have — sexual contact with any of those men.

About 25 percent of the infected men had the so-called "high-risk" types of HPV, which are more strongly linked with cancer than low-risk types of HPV.

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The study, the first to estimate the percentage of U.S. men that have a genital HPV infection, was published Jan. 19 in the journal JAMA Oncology, and also shows that only around 11 percent of U.S. men had received the HPV vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human papillomaviruses are a group of more than 150 related viruses that target different parts of the body. Genital HPVs can spread as sexually transmitted infections through "intimate skin-to-skin contact." Most infections go away on their own, but some can linger and lead to various health problems, from genital warts to cancer.

A surprising outcome of the research, which was carried out at the Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg in North Carolina, was the high rate of HPV infection in older men: the highest rate of HPV infection was among the oldest age group (age 58 to 59.)

"This was not expected," admitted Dr. Jasmine Han, who led the study.

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The current vaccination age cutoff for men (in 2009, health officials approved the HPV vaccine for males and it is recommended for both females and males ages 11 to 26 years old) should be reevaluated in light of the new findings.

The main symptom of HPV is warts, which appear when the body's immune system has not been able to defeat an HPV infection. Genital warts appear on the penis, scrotum or around the anus on men, and on the vulva, cervix, near the anus or in the vagina on women.

Common warts (rough, raised bumps) are typically found on the hands, fingers or elbows. Plantar warts (hard, grainy growths) most often grow on the heels or balls of the feet. Flat warts (slightly raised lesions darker than the natural skin tone) may appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face, women tend to get them on their legs, and men typically find them in their beard area.

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