Men Who Drink Heavily at Greatest Risk for HPV Infection

human papillomavirus

Men Who Drink Heavily at Greatest Risk for HPV Infection

human papillomavirusHPV is the common abbreviation for the human papillomavirus, a microorganism responsible for causing more sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. than any other single infectious source. In a study published in October 2014 in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, researchers from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute looked at the impact alcohol consumption has on the odds that any sexually active man will develop an HPV infection. These researchers concluded that men who drink in the heaviest amounts have the highest risks for infection with the virus.


Like other sexually transmitted illnesses, the human papillomavirus spreads through various forms of unprotected sexual contact. Specific forms of contact most likely to spread the virus in unprotected individuals include vaginal sex and anal sex. Most people exposed to HPV do not develop symptoms or experience any serious resulting health problems. However, a sizable number of exposed individuals go on to develop lesions known as genital warts. In addition, some people infected with HPV eventually develop cancer in parts of the body that can include the vagina, the vulva, the cervix, the anus, the penis and the rear section of the throat. Variations of the human papillomavirus that lead to the onset of genital warts are different from variations of the virus that lead to the onset of cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. No one can tell in advance which exposed individuals will develop genital warts or cancer. Generally speaking, any given person with a compromised immune system appears to have unusually high chances of experiencing an HPV infection.

Alcohol and Immune Function

Although alcohol is widely used in the U.S. and in many other countries, it produces toxic effects inside the body when consumed in more than small or moderate amounts. Public health officials set guidelines designed to alert the public to the risks of excessive alcohol consumption and deter heavy alcohol intake. Men transition from moderate to heavy drinking when they regularly consume at least five drinks in a single day or 15 drinks a week. Women cross the line into heavy use when they regularly consume at least four drinks in a single day or eight drinks a week.

Among its many harmful health effects, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to suppression of normal function in the human immune system. Every person relies on this system to provide frontline protection against viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and other invading microorganisms. One of the known consequences of alcohol-related immune suppression is increased odds of contracting the sexually transmitted HIV (human immunodeficiency) and HCV (hepatitis C) viruses.

Heavy Drinking and HPV Infection

In the study published in Sexually Transmitted Infections, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute researchers used data gathered from an international project called the HPV in Men Study to determine the impact that alcohol consumption has on a man’s chances of developing an HPV infection. A total of 1,313 U.S. men took part in this project; the researchers focused their attention on this American subgroup. Each of the 1,313 men reported his typical level of daily alcohol consumption. The researchers used genital samples to check each participant for the telltale signs of the human papillomavirus.

The researchers concluded that the 25 percent of the participant group with the highest reported level of daily alcohol consumption had the highest chances of being infected with HPV. This increased risk applied to the transmission of all known variations of the virus, including those forms known for their ability to trigger cancer. The researchers also concluded that heavy drinking increases the risks for HPV infection regardless of how many partners a sexually active man has over time.

Overall, the study’s authors believe their findings clearly point toward the connection between heavy alcohol consumption in men and heightened chances of developing an HPV infection. However, they note that the underlying mechanisms for this link are not well understood and call for additional research to increase knowledge in this important health area.

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