Oral sex and open-mouthed "French" kissing increase the risk of acquiring oral infections of human papillomavirus, or HPV, a study shows.
"Performing oral sex is not without risks," Dr. Maura L. Gillison told Reuters Health.
It is associated with gonorrheal pharyngitis - a sexually transmitted infection of the tonsils and back of the throat that immediately causes symptoms, she noted, and now is associated with mouth HPV infections that are silent "yet may lead to oral cancer 10 to 20 years later."
Gillison from The Ohio State University, Columbus, and colleagues explored whether sexual behaviors were associated with the odds of oral HPV infection in 332 adults and in 210 college-aged men. They found that 4.8 percent of the adults and 2.9 percent of college-aged men had oral HPV infection.
Among adults, the odds of oral HPV infection were significantly elevated among current tobacco smokers and among individuals who reported having either more than 10 oral or more than 25 vaginal sex partners during their lifetime.
Similar risk factors applied to the college-aged men. For them, having at least six recent oral sex or open-mouthed kissing partners were independently associated with increased odds of developing oral HPV infection.
For the 28 percent of college-aged men who reported never having performed oral sex, having at least 10 lifetime or at least five recent open-mouthed kissing partners was associated with a significantly higher risk of developing oral HPV infection.
"Our data suggest that oral HPV infections that could predispose to cancer may be transmitted by very common behaviors such as open-mouth or 'French' kissing," Gillison concluded.
Given that the HPV vaccine does not have any therapeutic value against pre-existing HPV infections, "this may be relevant to the timing of administration of vaccination," Gillison said.
Although the CDC recommends that the vaccine be administered between the ages of 9 and 12 ideally, in practice, she noted, it is often administered to girls between the age of 14 and 16. Oral exposure to HPV may have occurred prior to that age.