The recent outbreak of Coronavirus made us all hygiene conscious as well as aware about communicable diseases (diseases that spread easily with close contact). But did you know that certain communicable diseases spread through close sexual or intimate contact?

Due to societal stigma, people often ignore such questions or avoid discussing topics related to sexual health. However, it is also important to speak up, discuss and find solutions for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). It is surely a benefit to your overall health. 

This blog briefly discusses STDs like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Human Papillomavirus (HPV). We’ll also highlight how HIV and HPV correlate, the risk of HPV infection in HIV-positive women, and the precautions one can take against these infections. 

HIV And The Risk Of HPV Acquisition

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It destroys and attacks CD-4 positive T cells (white blood cells that defend the body with their infection-searching-and-fighting abilities). If left untreated, HIV may lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS- also called stage 3 HIV). It may also cause recurring vaginal yeast infections and cervical cancer in women. 1, 2 

Human Papillomavirus or HPV, another STD, is very common and constitutes over 200 genotypes. Several cancers can develop through high-risk strains of HPV, with cervical cancer having the highest probability. Moreover, an HPV infection also increases the chances of developing cancers of the throat, anus, penis, vulva and vagina.3 You should undergo an HPV test sooner if you suspect an infection. Early detection of the infection (if any) helps stop its spread and also prevents the onset or progression of any disease.

Studies suggest that HIV-positive women are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer than their non-HIV counterparts. Since HIV-positive women are susceptible to developing an HPV infection as well, they are more likely to develop cervical cancer due to an exposure to high-risk HPV infection. Therefore, for HIV-positive women, it is advisable to frequently undergo HPV screening to mitigate the risks of developing cervical cancer. 4 5 6

WHO Guidelines For HPV Screening

World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation for HPV screening is as follows:

  • For the general population of women, screening should start from 30 years of age, repeating it with a validated HPV test every 5 to 10 years. 
  • For HIV-positive women, HPV screening should start from 25 years of age, repeating more frequently, i.e. every 3 to 5 years. 7

Symptoms Of HIV And HPV 

A wide range of symptoms of HIV infection and AIDS include:

  • Sweat and chills
  • Weight loss
  • Recurring fever
  • Swollen lymph
  • Skin rashes
  • Persistent oral lesions 
  • Oral yeast infection
  • Shingles and pneumonia8

Symptoms of an HPV infection are not easily evident among those infected. However, the following conditions, which appear mostly near the vaginal and vulvar region, could be possible signs of HPV:

  • Genital warts
  • Lumps and itching (They may also appear on legs, hands and feet)9

HIV-positive women have a higher risk of acquiring HPV infection and thus are more prone to HPV symptoms compared to HIV-negative women. This occurs due to the modifying effect of Human Immunodeficiency Viruses on HPV pathogenesis (a process by which a disease develops).10

HIV And HPV Safety In Women

HIV Safety Measures

Women can opt for HIV diagnosis through  blood tests. Usually, it may take up to 12 weeks for the HIV person to develop antibodies (proteins that protect you from unwanted substances entering your body).11 It is advisable to repeat the test multiple times, as the early results may show false negatives (wrongly indicating that a person does not have a specific disease or condition while he/she does have the disease or condition). Sooner the detection of HIV, more efficient the treatment.

HIV can be categorised based on the three levels of infection:

  1. Acute HIV infection: You may experience flu-like symptoms within 2-4 weeks after the infection
  2. Clinical latency (Chronic HIV infection): The virus multiplication takes place, but you may not feel the sickness
  3. Stage 3 (When you’re not on HIV medications): Eventually, the infection progresses to AIDS as the virus weakens your body’s immune system

Depending on these levels of HIV infection, doctors might suggest effective ways to treat and manage HIV and AIDS.12

HPV Safety Measures 

When you suspect any symptoms of HPV infection, it is advisable to go for a quick and reliable HPV test kit such as “LifeCell’s at-home self-collection HPV Test - Female.” It helps to confirm the presence of the virus and take quick action against the infection via a doctor’s consultation. It can detect the presence of high-risk strains such as HPV 16, 18 and 45 (amongst which HPVs 16 and 18 are responsible for causing 70% of cervical cancer13).

Talking about HPV prevention, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for women helps mitigate the risk of HPV infection. Women and young girls, even 11 or 12 year olds, can take the HPV vaccination upto 24 years/marriage or before sexual activities. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine available for HIV. However, suitable precautions, treatment options and care will help manage the symptoms caused by the disease.

Summing Up!

In this blog, we discussed how HIV-positive women have a higher risk of HPV infection. We also learnt about the symptoms of these STDs and that vaccinations, safe sex practices and regular medical screenings can be helpful in their prevention.

LifeCell’s at-home self-collection vaginal swab kit is a confidential, convenient and reliable HPV screening option! Availing this quick test will help you identify the specific genotypes of major high-risk HPVs. It also identifies if the person is infected with other high risk HPVs like 26, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 39,51, 52, 53, 56, 58, 59, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 73, 82, 97, etc (specific genotype will not be provided in the test result). Consequently, HIV-positive women as well as the general population of women can early detect HPV-related diseases such as cervical cancer and look out ways for disease intervention.