Is it possible to spread HPV through saliva?

Transmission of the human papillomavirus or HPV through saliva is still being studied as of 2011, although HPV infection of the oral mucosa is possible and implicated in oral cancers. HPV is also suspected of causing cervical and anogenital cancer. Although only 10% of infections appear to involve cancer-causing strains of HPV, up to 75% of adults are or have been exposed to the virus, which usually resolves on its own. Although HPV is common, it can also be prevented.

Whole viruses like rabies, Epstein-Barr, and the flu show up constantly in saliva. While these viruses can be spread through oral exposure from a bite or kiss, HPV has exhibited DNA traces at a variable rate. By studying HPV transmission through saliva, researchers have found detection rates lower than those found in tissues.

However, a 2008 study in Greece found that detection rates were higher in those with inefficient immune system responses. Antibodies and antimicrobial proteins called lyzosomes are normally present in saliva and attack intruders, keeping the bacterial and viral countdown down. Those with conditions that promote a dry mouth have less saliva and higher levels of microbes in their mouths; Additionally, people with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to bacteria and viruses that infect them in this way, including the spread of HPV through saliva.

The virus is normally spread through skin-to-skin contact, usually during sexual activity. The mucosa in the mouth and oropharyngeal complex is very similar to that of the genitalia; HPV16, the same strain that causes cervical cancer, is also linked to oral cancer. A vaccine targeting four types of HPV has been developed, and it is recommended that women and men between the ages of 9 and 26 get vaccinated before any sexual contact takes place; The vaccine has been shown to prevent HPV infection before exposure. Early sexual education aimed at preventing the disease should include the possibility of spreading HPV through saliva.

HPV16 has also been found in younger people whose only risk factor for pharyngeal cancer is oral sex, rather than long-term use of tobacco or alcohol. This implies that HPV16 is transmitted by oral-genital contact and therefore can be contracted or passed through mucous membranes and fluids in the mouth. Education aimed at preventing the disease should include the possibility of spreading HPV through saliva. Consistent use of latex condoms and other barrier devices that can be used during oral sex, such as dental dams, have been shown to reduce transmission of HPV through saliva or sexual activity.

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