Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

High-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) screening and detection in healthy patient saliva samples: a pilot study

Deidre O Turner1, Shelley J Williams-Cocks2, Ryan Bullen3, Jeremy Catmull3, Jesse Falk3, Daniel Martin3, Jarom Mauer3, Annabel E Barber2, Robert C Wang2, Shawn L Gerstenberger1 and Karl Kingsley3*

Author Affiliations

1 University of Nevada, Las Vegas - School of Community Health Sciences, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

2 University of Nevada, Reno - School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

3 University of Nevada, Las Vegas - School of Dental Medicine, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

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BMC Oral Health 2011, 11:28  doi:10.1186/1472-6831-11-28

Published: 10 October 2011



The human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a large family of non-enveloped DNA viruses, mainly associated with cervical cancers. Recent epidemiologic evidence has suggested that HPV may be an independent risk factor for oropharyngeal cancers. Evidence now suggests HPV may modulate the malignancy process in some tobacco- and alcohol-induced oropharynx tumors, but might also be the primary oncogenic factor for inducing carcinogenesis among some non-smokers. More evidence, however, is needed regarding oral HPV prevalence among healthy adults to estimate risk. The goal of this study was to perform an HPV screening of normal healthy adults to assess oral HPV prevalence.


Healthy adult patients at a US dental school were selected to participate in this pilot study. DNA was isolated from saliva samples and screened for high-risk HPV strains HPV16 and HPV18 and further processed using qPCR for quantification and to confirm analytical sensitivity and specificity.


Chi-square analysis revealed the patient sample was representative of the general clinic population with respect to gender, race and age (p < 0.05). Four patient samples were found to harbor HPV16 DNA, representing 2.6% of the total (n = 151). Three of the four HPV16-positive samples were from patients under 65 years of age and all four were female and Hispanic (non-White). No samples tested positive for HPV18.


The successful recruitment and screening of healthy adult patients revealed HPV16, but not HPV18, was present in a small subset. These results provide new information about oral HPV status, which may help to contextualize results from other studies that demonstrate oral cancer rates have risen in the US among both females and minorities and in some geographic areas that are not solely explained by rates of tobacco and alcohol use. The results of this study may be of significant value to further our understanding of oral health and disease risk, as well as to help design future studies exploring the role of other factors that influence oral HPV exposure, as well as the short- and long-term consequences of oral HPV infection.