Human papillomavirus (HPV) detection among older patients may be due to reactivation of the virus, not a new acquisition, according to new research. This fact, as well as the aging of the baby boomer generation-the first generation to have experienced the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s-means that perimenopausal women who are found to have HPV may have acquired it years before.
For the study, which was conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore and Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine in Serdang, Malaysia, 843 Baltimore women aged 35 to 60 were enrolled in a 2-year, semiannual follow-up study. Age-specific HPV prevalence was estimated in strata defined by a lower risk of prior infection (<5 self-reported lifetime sex partners) and a higher risk of prior infection (≥5 lifetime sex partners). The interaction between age and lifetime sex partners was tested using likelihood ratio statistics.
While HPV prevalence was higher among women who reported new sexual partners within the 6 months before study enrollment, less than 3% of women in the study reported having new partners in that time. Nearly 90% of HPV infections were detected in women reporting more than 1 sexual partner in their lifetime, and 77% were detected in women who reported 5 or more sexual partners in their lifetime.
Notably, the researchers concluded that a lower cumulative probability of HPV infection among women with a “sexual debut” before the sexual revolution may be masking an age-related increase in HPV reactivation in the United States compared with countries in Central and South America. The authors wrote that further study is needed to determine if their findings can be generalized to the larger population of baby-boomer-aged women in the United States. The study was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.