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New research suggests that’s so.
HPV infection is common, and healthy people often clear it from the body without developing cancer. But HIV infection weakens the immune system, making it more difficult to fight off HPV, explained study author Lisa Wigfall. She is an assistant professor in the division of health education at Texas A&M University, in College Station.
To assess HPV vaccination rates among people at high risk for HIV infection, the researchers analyzed data from more than 486,000 adults who took part in the 2016 U.S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey.
Of those, about 16,500 (3.4%) were classified as being at high risk for HIV infection due to using injection drugs and/or engaging in risky sex. From complete data available for 416 of those people, the researchers found that very few were fully vaccinated against HPV.
Only about one quarter of gay/bisexual males aged 18 to 33 had started the three-dose HPV vaccine series, and about 6% had completed it.
Only about one quarter of high-risk heterosexual women aged 18 to 36 had completed the three-dose HPV series, and only 11% of high-risk heterosexual men aged 18 to 29 had started the three-dose HPV series, the findings showed.
None of the transgender men and women and gender-nonconforming individuals in the study had started HPV vaccination, the researchers found.
HPV vaccination rates were also much lower among black respondents than any other racial/ethnic group, according to the study authors.
The findings were presented Tuesday at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, in Atlanta. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“It was alarming that almost all non-Hispanic blacks in the study were unvaccinated, especially given the disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS among this minority group,” Wigfall said in an AACR news release.
One possible reason for the low rate of HPV vaccination in high-risk adults is that recommendations for people living with HIV were issued several years after the HPV vaccine first became available to the general population, Wigfall noted.
And for some groups of people at high risk for HIV infection — such as gay/bisexual men or transgender individuals — health care providers may fail to discuss the connection between high-risk sex and HIV/HPV co-infection, she added.
“Gender and sexual orientation are important topics that should not preclude us from identifying and targeting HPV vaccination efforts among high-risk populations,” Wigfall said.
— Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, April 2, 2019