HPV Just Won't Go Away

Repeat HPV cases among women mainly come from old infections rather than new

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Teenage girls have been targets of HPV campaigns over the last several years. But older women should be the focus as well, especially as repeat cases pop up in those already infected.

Rather than a new infection, a second outbreak of the human papilloma virus in women who are near or done with menopause may be spurred from a previous infection, a recently published study has found.

Commonly known as a cause of genital warts, HPV is spread through sexual contact. The more partners women have, the more likely they are to get the virus.

"Ask your OB/GYN about the HPV vaccine."

The study, led by Patti Gravitt, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine in Malaysia, looked at about 850 women who were getting routine screenings for cervical cancer between 2008 and 2011.

The women were recruited from OB/GYN clinics around Baltimore and were between 35 and 60 years of age. Researchers excluded those who were pregnant, planning to become pregnant, had donated organs or were positive for HIV.

After completing a questionnaire on their reproductive and menstrual history, medication use, sexual history and current sexual behaviors, swab samples were taken from their cervix.

Researchers found that the number of women with HPV was greater among those who had a new sexual partner within six months of joining the study. However, less than 3 percent reported having a new partner during that time.

Almost 90 percent of the infections were detected in women who had more than one sexual partner total. And 77 percent of those infections came from women who said they had five or more partners over the course of their lifetime.

"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," researchers wrote in their report.

The researchers note that they aren't sure why the infection was reactivated among women over 50.

But women who first started having sex during and after the sexual revolution in the 60s and 70s have a higher risk of HPV compared to those who started having sex before 1965.

"Our historical experience with HPV and cervical neoplasia in postmenopausal women may not be very predictive of the experience of the baby boomer generation of women who are now entering the menopausal transition at a higher risk than their mothers," Dr. Gravitt said in a press release.

Because women are typically screened more often for cervical cancer at an older age, the number of reported HPV cases might be higher compared to other age groups of the female population.

"Long-term follow-up of previously highly exposed women who will transition through menopause in the next decade is urgently needed to accurately estimate the potential risk of postmenopausal invasive cervical cancer in the US baby boom population and guide prevention strategies," they wrote.

The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health funded the study, which was published online December 12 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 13, 2012
Last Updated:
May 3, 2013