HPV infection, cancer-causing virus high among healthy women in Ibadan —Study

Experts say that there is a high prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, the virus that causes cervical, genital, and head and neck cancers, among sexually-active Nigerian women.

In a new study, investigators at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London and Catalan Institute of Oncology, Spain, found different types of HPV infections in women.

It was highest in the vulvar (68%), followed by in the cervix (60%) and anal cavity (57%), and in the mouth (16%).

The study noted that unlike other parts of the world, HPV-35 was the most common high-risk HPV type in the cervix and vulva, HPV-52 in the anal cavity and HPV-51 in the mouth. HPV-42 was the most common low-risk type in all the sites. In addition, one in 10 women had the same type of virus across these four parts of the body assessed.

The researchers had conducted a cross-sectional study on sexually-active women aged 18 to 45 years in Ibadan. After a face-to-face interview and clinical examination, samples were collected from participants’ mouths, cervix, vulvar, and anus for the HPV tests.

The study was published in the September 2021 edition of Infectious Agents and Cancer Journal.

The study was part of a large population-based study tagged ‘Sexual behaviours HPV Infections in Nigerians Ibadan (SHINI Study)’ that recruited men and women in general populations and sex workers.

According to the study, in total, a quarter of women had vaginal sex debut by 17 years and half of these women (51%) had an age difference of up to five years with their first vaginal sex partner. Only 11% had ever given oral sex while 12% had ever received oral sex from a male partner.

Three-quarter of the women reported ever engaging in mutual masturbation with sexual partners (75%). Only a few women reported a history of transactional sex (6%), use of illicit drugs (1%) and 7% had ever heard of HPV. Previous STI was reported by 14% of participants.

The researchers stated that “although HPV infection is transient, the relatively high HPV infection in the different sites may possibly be due to the changing sexual behaviour and increasing sexual risk practices in the general population”.

The researchers declared that the detection of HPV-35 and -51 as part of the most prevalent HPV types in the genital (cervix and vulva), anal cavity and oral cavity, respectively, may suggest the need for vaccine developers to consider the coverage of these genotypes in future HPV vaccine design, especially for HPV-35 that is linked with invasive genital cancers.

Usually, HPV is cleared from the body by the immune system in about 9 out of 10 people. However, the virus fails to clear and persists in others leading to cancers.

HPV shows no symptoms and is sexually transmitted through sex, masturbation and contacts from infected surfaces.

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