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Tobacco Tied to Higher Risk of Oral HPV Infection

Researchers say smoking and 'chew' raise odds for the virus

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Tobacco use in any form appears to be linked to an increased risk of infection with oral human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16), according to a research letter published in the Oct. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on infectious disease.

Carole Fakhry, M.D., M.P.H., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues collected data on 6,887 men and women who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Among the participants, there were 2,012 tobacco users. Of the tobacco users, 81.3 percent were cigarette smokers. Other forms of tobacco use included chew, snuff, and pipe smoking. Sixty-three of the tobacco users were infected with HPV16.

The researchers measured blood levels of cotinine and found that an amount equal to three cigarettes a day increased the risk of infection 31 percent. When they measured urine levels of total 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL), the risk increased 68 percent when the levels equaled four cigarettes a day.

"We don't fully understand oral HPV16," Fakhry told HealthDay. "People exposed to tobacco could be more likely to become infected after exposure to HPV16 or less likely to get rid of the infection." Fakhry cautioned that this study does not prove that tobacco makes it easier to get HPV16, only that the two factors are linked. Since tobacco use is associated with other risky behaviors, it's possible that people who use tobacco engage in more oral sex, which could increase their odds of being infected with HPV16, she explained.

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