Although many may have been exposed to less serious forms of HPV, more than 45% of sexually active young women who have acquired HIV appear never to have been exposed to the most common high-risk forms of HPV, according to researchers.
Women with HIV may benefit from a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV), despite having already been exposed to HPV, a study finds.
Although many may have been exposed to less serious forms of HPV, more than 45% of sexually active young women who have acquired HIV appear never to have been exposed to the most common high-risk forms of HPV, according to the study from a National Institutes of Health research network.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. The virus can infect the anal and genital areas, mouth, and throat of males and females. High-risk forms of the virus can cause cancer, including cancer of the cervix.
The researchers noted that earlier studies had found many women with HIV were more likely than were women who did not have HIV to have conditions associated with HPV, such as precancerous conditions of the cervix, as well as for cervical cancer.
"Health care providers may hesitate to recommend HPV vaccines after a girl starts having sex," said study first author Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "However, our results show that for a significant number of young women, HPV vaccine can still offer benefits. This is especially important in light of their HIV status, which can make them even more vulnerable to HPV's effects."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccination for girls ages 11 to 26. If an individual has not been exposed to the virus, approved HPV vaccines can protect against four types of the virus. Two HPV types, HPV-16 and HPV-18, cause 70% of cervical cancers. Two others, HPV-6 and HPV-11, cause 90% of genital warts.
At the time the women in the study received their first HPV vaccination, the researchers found that 12% had an existing HPV-16 infection and 5% had an HPV-18 infection. Because of their HIV status, these women may be more likely to develop cervical cancer or to develop a cancer that is hard to treat, the researchers said.
"Cervical cancer screening for sexually active young women is an important clinical priority, but our findings suggest it is especially so for women at risk of HIV," said study co-author Bill G. Kapogiannis, MD, of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), one of six NIH institutes supporting the study.
The research was conducted at a network of hospitals affiliated with the NICHD-funded Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions.
The findings appear in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.
"Even among women who test positive for one type of HPV, the vaccine may effectively prevent infection with others — especially high-risk forms that cause cancer," Kahn said. "It’s important that doctors don't withhold the vaccine in these cases, thinking that it's too late for a vaccine to be effective."