A sexually transmitted disease is so infectious that even virgins can catch it and spread it to others, according to new research.
Scientists say data from dozens of male virgins show that a good chunk of them had already acquired HPV, the STD that has been linked to warts and various cancers and has prompted medical researchers to develop a vaccine. A study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases explains that the virgins may have contracted the STD, whose full name is human papillomavirus, through “non-penetrative sexual contact” such as contact between genitals short of intercourse or hand-to-genital touching.
Although previous research has investigated the occurrence of HPV in female virgins, the new study is the first to look into rates in male virgins, according to the team.
“Finding HPV in this population was not entirely surprising, but it reinforces the point that HPV vaccination should not be thought of only in the context of sexual behavior,” corresponding author Alan Nyitray said in a statement from the University of Texas.
The 87 self-reported male virgins from whom HPV data was collected were between the ages of 18 and 70, and some of them began engaging in penetrative sex during the study period. The men who changed their virginity status during that time contracted HPV at roughly double the rate of those who did not
Among the men who started having sex during the study, more than a quarter had contracted the STD within a year and almost half of them had HPV within two years.
“These findings highlight the rapid acquisition of HPV after sexual debut among men and thus emphasize the importance of HPV vaccination before sexual debut,” first study author Zhiyue Liu said in the university statement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people with HPV don’t show any signs of the virus, but estimates suggest it infects about a quarter of the population in the United States.
Even though the body often fights off the STD, it can cause cancer in the cervix, anus, penis, vagina, vulva and throat, the Mayo Clinic explains. HPV can also cause genital warts.
Vaccines can help prevent an HPV infection, and they are recommended for pre-teen and teen boys and girls.