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Women with HIV may not get proper protection from HPV vaccines

Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Sexually active individuals in non-monogamous relationships should seek out STD testing services to protect against infections, particularly because the presence of one condition may increase the risk of another.

For example, a recent study conducted by researchers from the Fox Chase Cancer Center has found that women with HIV have a higher risk than others of contracting the types of HPV that can cause cancer, and current HPV vaccines do not protect against these strains of the virus.

Many strains
According to the scientists, more than 40 strains of HPV can affect the genitals, and at least 15 of these may have the ability to alter cells, leading to cervical and other forms of cancer. An estimated 4,000 women die of cervical cancer in the U.S. each year, and this cancer is almost always the result of an HPV infection.

Study author Elizabeth Blackman, who is a research specialist at Fox Chase, explained that HPV is extremely common and most of the time does not lead to cancer if it is present in individuals who have healthy immune systems.

"But if your immune system is compromised, such as in HIV, you will not be able to fight off the infection," said Blackman. "Over time, persistent infection with HPV can lead to cancer."

To come to their conclusions, the scientists studied 176 HIV-positive women. They discovered that three-quarters of the women carried high-risk forms of HPV and approximately 30 percent had cervical cells that were precancerous. Some of these women had precancerous cells that could be traced back to HPV strains that current vaccines do not protect against.

However, it's important to note that women who had been taking HIV medication for at least four years seemed to be less likely to have these risky HPV strains, highlighting the importance of treating HIV as early as possible.

Testing is key
The HIV-positive women in this study were less likely to have dangerous strains of HPV if they had their HIV under control. The best way to do this is through early detection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that knowing HIV status makes people stronger because it allows them to make responsible decisions about their sexual health and future. As this recent study highlights, knowing may also help reduce a woman's risk of cervical cancer caused by HPV.

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