New research has found that it takes Black women longer to get rid of HPV than White women.
Kim Creek, a professor of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences at South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Charleston, studied human papillomavirus, or HPV, infection and persistence in women enrolled at the school. Starting in 2004, he gave 439 women (326 White and 113 Black) pap tests every six months for the duration of their college education.
The professor found that although the new high-risk infection rate was about equal in both Black and White women, Black women were 1.5 times more likely to test positive.
In addition to that, 56 percent of Black women were still infected with HPV two years after contracting the virus. This only applied to about 24 percent of White women involved in the study.
“African American women are more likely to have persistent high-risk HPV infection,” said Kim.
“If you are infected [with HPV], your body recognizes it as a viral infection and usually clears the virus within one or two years,” he added. “It is those women who have difficulty clearing it that are at higher risk of cervical disease and cervical cancer.”
Kim is not entirely sure why Black women have a hard time getting rid of HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection, but he believes that "it likely has something to do with the immune system.”
The study’s author added that Black women are also 40 percent more likely to develop cervical cancer and twice as likely to die from it than White women.
The findings are troubling, but Dr. Diana Contreras, director of OB/GYN at Long Island Jewish Center, said there is still much to analyze about how Black women should handle the infection.
“We are beginning to understand that HPV may behave differently in different ethnic groups,” she said. “This study is very provocative, but the jury is still out on screening and treatment, and we have to be careful about drawing too many conclusions.”