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Human Papillomavirus More Likely to Be Reactivated Among HIV-Positive Women, Study Says

April 22, 2005

The human papillomavirus -- which is the primary cause of cervical cancer -- is more likely to be reactivated among HIV-positive women with suppressed immune systems, according to a study published in the April 20 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Reuters reports. Howard Strickler, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Population Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and colleagues studied 2,500 women -- 1,848 of whom were HIV-positive -- who were enrolled in the Women's Interagency HIV Study between October 1994 and November 1995. Every six months for an average of seven years, the women underwent HPV testing using polymerase chain reaction assays, which test for genetic material of the virus. Most women in the study had detectable HPV at some point but later tested negative for the virus. However, women who had advanced HIV or AIDS were more likely than women with uncompromised immune systems to have a second outbreak of detectable HPV following a period when the virus was undetectable. According to the study, 29 HIV-positive women who previously tested positive for HPV experienced a reactivation of HPV after 18 months or more, despite the fact that they had not engaged in sexual activity during that time. "Our data suggest that undetectable HPV infections become active much more frequently in HIV-positive women, which helps explain the extremely high rates of HPV infection in these women," Strickler said in a statement. He also said the findings suggest that HIV-positive women and other women with suppressed immune systems should have regular Pap tests in order to monitor HPV (Reuters, 4/20).

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