Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a fascinating little bugger. Certain strains can interfere with tumor suppressor genes leading to cancer, especially cervical, anal, and some mouth cancers. Other strains cause genital warts. The vaccine offered in the U.S. (Gardasil) protects against the two strains that cause most cancers and against two strains causing warts. The vaccine has the potential to change the way our population is affected by these diseases.
But we are still learning more about this virus. We know that HPV can be transmitted even without visible lesions. But where are these viruses hiding? A recent study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases may have found one reservoir.
Researchers in Slovenia looked at some of the old data on HPV which suggested that pubic hair follicles might contain HPV. To investigate this further, they rounded up 53 Slovenian males with genital warts, and 53 males without warts to serve as controls. They then sampled the warts and plucked hairs from the scrotum, pubic area, and from around the anus. They used PCR to find and identify HPV DNA from the samples.
HPV infections and HPV-related cancers are sexually transmitted, and are strongly affected by the immune system, and HPV-related cancers are particularly common in people with HIV, so the study subjects were screened for the presence of HIV and other immune diseases.
The researches found significant differences between the two groups studied. Nearly 70% of subjects with warts had HPV isolated from hair samples, compared to about 13% of controls. Strains in the hair matched the strains from the warts present.
Poljak, M., Kocjan, B., Potočnik, M., & Seme, K. (2009). Anogenital Hairs Are an Important Reservoir of Alpha‐Papillomaviruses in Patients with Genital Warts The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 199 (9), 1270-1274 DOI: 10.1086/597619