Tobacco smokers are more likely to test positive for a type of oral human papillomavirus, HPV-16, than non-smokers, a study has found. As few as three daily cigarettes is enough to increase the HPV infection risk by one third, or 31%, because of the elevated levels of cotinine – an alkaloid found in tobacco. Human papillomavirus is the term for a group of viruses that affect the skin and mucous membranes affecting the cervix, anus, mouth and throat. Oral HPV-16 is a sexually transmitted virus that can trigger mouth and throat cancers.

In recent years, the US has experienced an increase in the number of throat cancer cases caused by HPV-16. “We saw a very strong association between higher levels of tobacco use and increased oral HPV prevalence across each of the biomarkers we evaluated,” said senior author Gypsyamber D’Souza, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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