You Can't Escape: For Some, HPV Returns at Menopause

Illustration for article titled You Can't Escape: For Some, HPV Returns at Menopause

Women who grew up (and slept around*) during the "sexual revolution" in the 1960s and 70s but settled down with longtime partners before the HIV/AIDS epidemic thought they got off easy when it came to STIs.


But a new study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that women near or at menopause are at risk for a "reawakened dormant infection" of HPV, a phrase which brings to mind an army of little zombie warts preparing for battle in your vagina. (Sorry.)

According to Bloomberg, "The findings released today suggest that reactivation of the sexually transmitted virus may increase around age 50 and be responsible for more later-life infections than new ones." You mean HPV isn't just something that millennial "adventurous women" get on Girls?

The study's authors said weakened immune systems were likely the reason why the virus, which is the most common STI in the U.S., would reappear in older women, much like the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox early in life but can come back with a vengeance after as shingles.

More on the study:

...about 850 women ages 35 through 60 were receiving cervical cancer screening from 2008 to 2011. Those who reported a new sexual partner within the six months before the screening had HPV more often; however, they represented only about 3 percent of the women in the sample.

The rest of the HPV infections, about 90 percent, were detected in women who'd had more than one lifetime sexual partner.

HPV infection rates declined with age only among 50-plus women with fewer than 5 lifetime sex partners. That suggests that the HPV is being reactivated after 50 years, and the bulk of infections detected then aren't new.

These findings are cause for concern because HPV is linked to head and neck, cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile and anal cancer; the study's authors say they mean women should definitely continue routine testing after 40. According to the CDC, in 90% of cases, the body's immune system clears HPV naturally within two years, but it's unclear whether that's true for women of all ages, or just younger ones.

At any rate, recent estimates suggest that 80% of sexually active women will have had HPV by age 50, so 1) thank you Obamacare for covering pap smears and HPV DNA testing and 2) don't feel bad if you have/have had it because basically everyone does at some point and if they claim otherwise they are probs lying.


*The study's authors define women who've "slept around" (they don't actually say that, but it's kind of implied) as those "who reported five or more sexual partners in their lifetime." Eek.




I was recently diagnosed with HPV, and I felt incredibly ashamed and embarrassed about it, but this makes me better to see that 80% of women end up getting it...