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HPV detection in older women caused by reaction to infection

Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Research led by Patti E. Gravitt, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine in Serdang, Malaysia, has found that detecting HPV in older women may not be solely the cause of having recent sexual partners, but it may also be the result of a reaction that occurs due to a past infection.

According to the research investigators, HPV, which has been diagnosed in 25 to 50 percent of women, is most prevalent during "sexual debut," or when women first start having intercourse. Many times the immune system is able to rid the body of the disease, and the rates of detection decrease as women get older. Although, in certain regions, the detection rate increases during menopause, while in other populations it remains low. The researchers conducted the study to find the reason for the sudden spikes in HPV prevalence later on in life. 

During the study, which was published in The Journal of Infectious Disease, the investigators analyzed nearly 850 women who were between 35 and 60 years old who were undergoing cervical cancer screenings between 2008 and 2011. There was a higher HPV incidence rate in women who had a new sexual partner within six months of being screened. The research also found that 90 percent of the women who were diagnosed with HPV had at least two sexual partners, while 77 percent of those who had contracted the disease had at least five different partners.

The study authors also noted that women who started to have sex after 1964 were more likely to be diagnosed with HPV due to increased numbers of partners - a trend that began during the sexual revolution of that era.

"Taken together, our data raise the possibility that reactivation risk may increase around age 50 years and contribute to a larger fraction of HPV detection at older ages, compared with new acquisition," wrote the research investigators.

HPV facts
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are nearly 40 strains of HPV that are present in the oral and genital areas. Many people who contract the virus, which can be detected with a lab test, do not show any symptoms, but genital warts and cervical cancer can develop. HPV is passed via genital contact, and many times, people do not even realize that they have the virus or are giving it to a partner.


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