Oral human papillomavirus in men having sex with men: risk-factors and sampling

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49324. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049324. Epub 2012 Nov 16.


Background: Human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma is becoming more common. We examined prevalence and risk factors for oral HPV among men who have sex with men (MSM) and compared sampling and transport methods.

Methods: In 2010, 500 MSM (249 HIV-positive) attending Melbourne Sexual Health Centre answered a questionnaire, swabbed their mouth and throat and collected a gargled oral rinse sample. Half the oral rinse was transported absorbed in a tampon (to enable postage). HPV was detected by polymerase chain reaction, and genotyped by Roche Linear Array®. Men with HPV 16 or 18 were retested after six months.

Results: Any HPV genotype was detected in 19% (95% confidence intervals (CI) 15-25%) of HIV-infected men and 7% (95% CI 4-11%) of HIV-negative men (p<0.001), and HPV 16 was detected in 4.4% (95% CI 2-8%) of HIV-infected men and 0.8% (0.1-2.8%) of HIV-negative men. Oral HPV was associated with: current smoking (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 2.2 (95%CI: 1.2-3.9)), time since tooth-brushing (aOR per hour 0.87, 95%CI: 0.8-0.96) and number of lifetime tongue-kissing partners aOR 3.2 95%CI: (1.2-8.4) for 26-100 partners and 4.9 95%CI: (1.9-12.5) for>100 partners. Lifetime oral-penile sex partner numbers were significantly associated in a separate model: aOR 2.8(1.2-6.3) for 26-100 partners and 3.2(1.4-7.2) for>100 partners. HPV 16 and 18 persisted in 10 of 12 men after a median six months. Sensitivities of sampling methods compared to all methods combined were: oral rinse 97%, tampon-absorbed oral rinse 69%, swab 32%.

Conclusions: Oral HPV was associated with HIV infection, smoking, recent tooth-brushing, and more lifetime tongue-kissing and oral sex partners. The liquid oral rinse sample was more sensitive than a tampon-absorbed oral rinse or a self-collected swab.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alphapapillomavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • Homosexuality, Male / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth / virology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*
  • Vaccination

Grant support

This study was funded by Program Grant number 568971 of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.