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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Epidemiologic natural history and clinical management of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Disease: a critical and systematic review of the literature in the development of an HPV dynamic transmission model

Ralph P Insinga*, Erik J Dasbach and Elamin H Elbasha

Author Affiliations

Department of Health Economic Statistics, Merck Research Laboratories, North Wales, PA, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:119  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-119

Published: 29 July 2009



Natural history models of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and disease have been used in a number of policy evaluations of technologies to prevent and screen for HPV disease (e.g., cervical cancer, anogenital warts), sometimes with wide variation in values for epidemiologic and clinical inputs. The objectives of this study are to: (1) Provide an updated critical and systematic review of the evidence base to support epidemiologic and clinical modeling of key HPV disease-related parameters in the context of an HPV multi-type disease transmission model which we have applied within a U.S. population context; (2) Identify areas where additional studies are particularly needed.


Consistent with our and other prior HPV natural history models, the literature review was confined to cervical disease and genital warts. Between October 2005 and January 2006, data were gathered from the published English language medical literature through a search of the PubMed database and references were examined from prior HPV natural history models and review papers. Study design and data quality from individual studies were compared and analyses meeting pre-defined criteria were selected.


Published data meeting review eligibility criteria were most plentiful for natural history parameters relating to the progression and regression of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) without HPV typing, and data concerning the natural history of HPV disease due to specific HPV types were often lacking. Epidemiologic evidence to support age-dependency in the risk of progression and regression of HPV disease was found to be weak, and an alternative hypothesis concerning the time-dependence of transition rates is explored. No data were found on the duration of immunity following HPV infection. In the area of clinical management, data were observed to be lacking on the proportion of clinically manifest anogenital warts that are treated and the proportion of cervical cancer cases that become symptomatic by stage.


Knowledge of the natural history of HPV disease has been considerably enhanced over the past two decades, through the publication of an increasing number of relevant studies. However, considerable opportunity remains for advancing our understanding of HPV natural history and the quality of associated models, particularly with respect to examining HPV age- and type-specific outcomes, and acquired immunity following infection.