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PUBLIC HEALTH & EDUCATION | One-Third of Women With Only One Sexual Partner Contract HPV Within a Year, Study Finds

PUBLIC HEALTH & EDUCATION | One-Third of Women With Only One Sexual Partner Contract HPV Within a Year, Study Finds
[Jan. 15, 2008]

Nearly one-third of college-aged women who have had just one sexual partner contracted human papillomavirus within one year of becoming sexually active, according to a study to be published this week in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the Canadian Press/CBC News reports.

For the study, Rachel Winer of the University of Washington and colleagues followed 125 women ages 18 to 22 who had not had sex previously or who first had sex with one male partner in the three months prior to the beginning of the study. The women were asked to keep diaries of their sexual activities and to estimate how many sexual partners their partners had had. The women also underwent a gynecological exam every four months. Researchers stopped collecting data from women who reported beginning a sexual relationship with a second partner.

One-third of the women had become infected with HPV within one year of starting their first sexual relationship, and 50% of the women were infected with HPV three years later, despite the fact they'd still only had a single sexual partner, the study found. The study also found that the rate of HPV was higher among women who estimated that their partners had had at least two previous sexual partners.

According to the researchers, the women could have been infected with HPV two or three years after becoming sexually active because of a decrease in condom use. Their partners also could have had sex with another partner. In addition, the women could have had and not reported a second sexual partner or engaged in sexual contact that allowed HPV to be transmitted.

Reaction

Winer said the study, which was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, "shows that even just with one partner there's a high risk of infection." She added that HPV is "different" from other sexually transmitted infections "in that it's just very common among everyone who's having sex. So even just being exposed to one partner makes you susceptible to infection," she said.

Ann Burchell, a doctoral candidate at McGill University, added that "one of the strong findings" of the study is that a woman's chance of contracting HPV increases if her partner has had more sexual partners. "Telling women just to have one partner" and "be monogamous is also not necessarily protective," Burchell said, adding that women who have only one sexual partner throughout their lives "still may get an HPV infection through that partner."

Monika Naus, director of the immunization program at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, said the findings show the importance of offering an HPV vaccine to girls before they begin having sex. "What this confirms is that you shouldn't wait until you've had one or two partners before you consider HPV vaccine, because there is a risk even with the first partner," Naus said (Branswell, Canadian Press/CBC News, 1/13).