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Smelov’s investigation of HPV on toilet seats in international airports

Lead author Smelov and colleagues write, in this letter to a medical journal, about a careful investigation that may (and may not) have small or nonexistent implications:

smelovAre human papillomavirus DNA prevalences providing high-flying estimates of infection? An international survey of HPV detection on environmental surfaces,” Vitaly Smelov [pictured here], Carina Eklund, Laila Sara Arroyo Mühr, Emilie Hultin, and Joakim Dillner, Sexually Transmitted Infections, epub November 4, 2013. (Thanks to investigator Henry de Vries for bringing this to our attention.)  The authors, at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden and North-Western State Medical University named after I.I. Mechnikov, St. Petersburg, Russia, report:

We studied surfaces that frequently contact anogenital skin: toilet seats in airport restrooms. Apparently clean seats in 23 airports located in 13 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and UK) were sampled with the same cytobrush sampling procedure as typically used in HPV-epidemiological studies….

HPV DNA was found in 22.8% of the 101 β-globin positive samples, with high-risk HPVs being found in 15.8%, HPV-16 in 12.9% and multiple HPV types in 3.0%….

Presence of HPV DNA does not necessarily indicate the presence of infectious virus. The present study therefore does not provide any evidence regarding routes of HPV transmission.

Improbable Research