Menopausal Women Might be At Risk for HPV Reactivation

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. More than 20 million Americans have HPV, and six million new cases are diagnosed each year. HPV can cause genital warts, cervical cancer and anal cancer, and it also is responsible for most cases of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers.

However, many times HPV has no visible symptoms, and this means that many people who have the virus do not even know it. Therefore, even though more than half of sexually active people are infected with one or more HPV types, they might not always realize it. Additionally, since many HPV infections go away on their own within 1-2 years, the virus might disappear without their person ever being made aware of their STD status.

But a new study has found that HPV might not always be gone for good, and that these people might experience a resurgence of the virus later in life. The study, which was recently published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, found that menopausal women might be at risk for the reactivation of previous HPV infections.

The researchers were interested in discovering why some women are more at risk for HPV infections than others. In particular, we know that young women are at a higher risk than older women, and as a woman ages, her risk of developing HPV declines. However, this new study (which was led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine) has found that HPV is still an important issue for women of all ages to consider.

Over 850 women between the ages of 35-60 were surveyed during routine cervical cancer screenings. The researchers found that nearly 90% of these women who had HPV reported having more than one sexual partner in their lifetime, while 77% reported having five or more sexual partners in their lifetime.

The researchers theorize that these are not new infections (only 3% of the women in the study who had HPV reported having a new partner within the last 6 months). Instead, they believe that previous tests which showed that HPV infections were cleared within 1-2 years might not be completely reliable. Instead, the authors of the study believe that type-specific HPV might possibly have the ability to resurge in a woman’s lifetime, and it seems that shifting hormones in menopausal women could play a part in that.

However, much more research is needed before anyone can explain why HPV infections reappear in older women. One thing it does show for certain is that safer sex precautions have never been more important than before, especially as we are now beginning to realize that HPV might not really “clear up” over time as previously believed. HPV vaccines need to be more widely discussed and we have to empower women and girls to take care of their sexual health.

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