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The most common sexually transmitted disease could also be transferable by blood, according to a new study from Penn State College of Medicine.

Penn State researchers studied rabbit and mouse papillomaviruses and found they could be transferred by blood to their respective hosts. The finding means the human papillomavirus could potentially be spread through blood in humans, specifically through blood transfusions.

“People who are receiving blood transfusions typically have immune systems that aren’t working optimally, so their systems are more vulnerable,” said Jiafen Hu, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Penn State College of Medicine. “We might want to think about adding HPV to the list of viruses for which blood donations are screened, as well as researching whether the typical viral load of HPV in human blood would be sufficient to cause infection.”

HPV is considered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be the most common sexually transmitted disease in humans, with an estimated 79 million people being infected in the United States. Some types of HPV can go away on its own, but other types can result in genital warts or progress to cervical or oral cancer.

Though the new study does not confirm blood transference of HPV and more research would be needed, it’s more evidence of what could be possible. The Penn State study came about after unrelated research in 2005.

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“Some years ago, researchers were looking at blood samples from a group of HIV-positive children, and as they were testing those samples, they found that some of them were also positive for HPV,” Hu said in a news release. “Because these children were so young, it prompted the question of whether the virus could have come from blood transfusions, which some of the children had undergone.”

In Penn State’s study, researchers found that an injection into the bloodstream of an animal and a transfusion of infected blood both resulted in tumors in the animals. The study also detected a presence of the virus in the stomach of the animals, which could be related to how HPV is sometimes found in the stomach and internal organs of those who develop cancer.

Researchers argued more studies need to be done because there are people who are carriers of HPV but have no signs or infections.

“We know that HPV is common and that not everyone who gets it is going to get cancer,” Hu said. “The tricky part is that a lot of people who are carrying HPV and are asymptomatic still have the potential to spread the virus. If a person is getting a blood transfusion because of one health issue, you don’t want to accidentally add another on top of that.”

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