The first survey to look at the prevalence of the genital human papillomavirus virus in the adult population has found that more than 42% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 59 are infected with the virus.

A high percentage:

The report was published by the National Center for Health Statistics on Thursday. It found that 25.1% of men and 20.4% of women were infected by certain high-risk strains of the virus. According to other studies, these strains cause roughly 31,000 cases of cancer each year.

Researchers are saying that the new data shows the importance of vaccinating adolescents, especially considering the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, Geraldine McQuillan, and lead author of the new report said: “If we can get 11- and 12-year-olds to get the vaccine, we’ll make some progress. You need to give it before kids become sexually active, before they get infected. By the time they’re in their mid-20s, people are infected and it’s too late. This is a vaccine against cancer, that’s the message

Dr. McQuillan and her colleagues discovered that 7.3% of Americans ages 18 to 69 were infected with HPV orally, 4% were infected with the high-risk strains which cause mouth and pharynx cancers.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Almost 40 strains of the virus are sexually transmitted and almost all sexually active young adults get exposed to it by their early 20s.

The figures in the report are a snapshot of active oral HPV infection from 2011 to 2014, and active genital infection in 2013 and 2014.

Dangerous strains:

Human bodies have the ability to clear over 90% of HPV infections. The virus is usually spread by direct contact with diseased genital skin or mucous membranes during intercourse or oral sex.

However, the virus can sometimes persist in the body. Certain strains could cause chronic infections which might lead to genital warts and cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus and throat. HPV-16 and -18 are the viral strains that cause almost all cervical cancers.

Dr. McQuillan said: “One of the most striking things that we really want people to know is that high-risk HPV is common — common in the general population. “

The C.D.C. recommends routine screening for cervical cancer for all women ages 21 to 65, however, adults are not routinely screened for HPV infection itself and there is no HPV test for men at all.

Dr. McQuillan and her colleagues found that there were noteworthy variances in rates of high-risk genital HPV infection by ethnicity and race

Non-Hispanic blacks had a rate of 33.7%, the highest, while Asians had the lowest, 11.9%. Whites had a 21.6% rate while Hispanics had 21.7%.

In general, men have higher rates than women, however, in Asian and Hispanic men, the infection rates are not pointedly more common, the reason for which is unknown.