THURSDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Many older women infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) in their youth may not "clear" it from the body as completely as once thought, a new study suggests.
The research hints that HPV infection in older women is often the reactivation of a strain picked up years ago, rather than a newly acquired sexually transmitted infection.
The study authors also found that HPV may be difficult to detect in the body more than one to two years after the initial infection.
"Women who fail to 'clear' [HPV] infections are known to be at high risk for cervical cancer, but what are the true long-term risks for the vast majority of women who appear to clear their initial infection? The current study addresses what does 'clearance' really mean," said Dr. Rhoda Sperling, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She was not connected to the new study.
The findings were published online Dec. 13 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.
HPV can cause genital warts and is also thought to be a major cause of cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and anus in women.
This study included about 850 women, aged 35 to 60, in Baltimore who underwent routine cervical cancer screening from 2008 to 2011. HPV infection was more common among women who reported a new sexual partner within six months prior to the study, but the authors pointed out that these women accounted for only 3 percent of the participants.
Nearly 90 percent of HPV infections were detected in women who had more than one lifetime sexual partner, and 77 percent were detected in women who had five or more sexual partners in their lifetime, the study authors noted.
According to the researchers, the findings suggest that women who became sexually active during and after the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s have a much higher risk of HP
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