Background: Among women infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), there is a high prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. However, little is known about the natural history of HPV infections in HIV-seropositive women, and persistent HPV infections may explain the increased risk of cervical squamous intraepithelial lesions and invasive cervical cancer in HIV-seropositive women.
Methods: A total of 220 HIV-seropositive and 231 HIV-seronegative women in the New York City area were evaluated at two or more semiannual gynecologic examinations that included a Pap test, a test for HPV DNA, and colposcopy.
Results: HPV DNA was detected at the initial examination in 56 percent of the HIV-seropositive and 31 percent of the HIV-seronegative women. After four examinations, the cumulative prevalence of HPV infection was 83 percent in the seropositive women and 62 percent in the seronegative women (P<0.001). Persistent HPV infections were found in 24 percent of the seropositive women but in only 4 percent of the seronegative women (P<0.001). Twenty percent of the seropositive women and 3 percent of the seronegative women had persistent infections with HPV-16-associated viral types (16, 31, 33, 35, or 58) or HPV-18-associated types (18 or 45) (P<0.001), which are most strongly associated with cervical cancer. The detection of HPV DNA in women with previously negative tests was not associated with sexual activity during the interval since the preceding examination.
Conclusions: HIV-seropositive women have a high rate of persistent HPV infections with the types of HPV that are strongly associated with the development of high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions and invasive cervical cancer. These persistent infections may explain the increased incidence of squamous intraepithelial lesions in HIV-seropositive women.