Digene Corporation of Maryland has developed a cervical smear that it hopes may eventually replace the Pap smear. The Pap smear, which has been in place for 50 years, identifies all cell abnormalities that are evidence of cervical cancer. The Hybrid Capture 2 HPV Test detects the presence of DNA belonging to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is known to be present in 99 percent of cervical cancer cases. The test is approved in the U.S. for use as a secondary test when Pap smear results are inconclusive, which happens in about seven percent of the cases. Designers say that approval of the test for primary usage will require some effort. Several large insurance firms have agreed to cover the new test, however, and some labs now automatically perform the test when Pap smear results are not conclusive.
Britain's Cancer Research Campaign has announced plans to initiate human trials of a new vaccine against cervical cancer. In the initial trial of a vaccine intended to boost the body's immune system against human papillomavirus, 24 women will receive different doses of the vaccine to see how their immune systems respond. Results of the study will be available in mid-2002. If successful, the CRC and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund will launch a larger trial to see if the optimum dose helps prevent HPV infection.
A report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology indicates that while many pregnant women are aware that HIV-infected pregnant women can transmit their infection to their infants, some are not sure how the virus is actually passed on. Researchers found that almost 40 percent of 1,400 women surveyed were not certain if an HIV-positive woman could transmit the virus to her baby via breast-feeding. In addition, nearly 33 percent thought that babies born to a woman with HIV would definitely become infected, and 49 percent were not aware that there are drugs that can help reduce the risk of newborn transmission. Nearly 90 percent of the women questioned had been offered an HIV test during their pregnancy, with most agreeing to the test, and 60 percent said that routine HIV testing of all pregnant women should be required by law.
New research reveals that after 18 months, short-course AZT treatment administered during late pregnancy appears to have no significant side effects on infants born to HIV-positive women. Researchers studied the outcomes of children born to 393 HIV-infected women between 1996 and 1998. The mothers were randomized to receive either AZT or a placebo starting at 36 weeks of pregnancy, and 55 of the 395 children born were infected with HIV. Researchers report there were no major adverse reactions related to the short-course therapy, although it remains unknown whether adverse events will develop as use of the regimen becomes more widespread or after several years of follow-up.
Researchers have discovered that a small protein found in the human placenta may be a natural protector against HIV. Leukemia inhibitory factor, or LIF, may naturally protect many fetuses from contracting HIV from their mothers. The findings were presented at the recent Eighth Annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.
A new report in the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association suggests that although some women who are infected with HIV, or at risk for infection, may feel isolated and depressed, many do not receive the necessary mental health care. Researchers surveyed 871 HIV-infected women and 439 HIV-negative women who had similar socioeconomic and behavioral backgrounds. Survey results indicated that more than one-third of the respondents, including 38 percent of the women with HIV and 35 percent of the women who were not infected with the virus, felt they could have used some mental health care at some point during the previous six months, but only about 66 percent of these women actually obtained such services.
A new study into the insight of HIV patients' perception of their illness and medication regimen found that many HIV-positive individuals take alternative therapies in addition to their prescribed HIV medications. Alternative therapies included micronutrients, vitamins, herbal supplements, teas, massage, protein supplements and anabolic steroids. According to the study, almost 60 percent of the patients who said they used alternative medicines said they had informed their doctors about the therapies, although the data was not generally recorded in the patient's chart. Because of the possible toxicity or negative interactions, researchers advise patients to inform their physicians of all alternative medicines they are using.
Rebecca Solomon is a case manager in AIDS Project Los Angeles' Client Services Division. She can be reached by calling (213) 201-1436 or by e-mail at rsolomon@APLA.org.