Young, sexually active, senior high school women in the Australian Capital Territory: prevalence and risk factors for genital Human papillomavirus infection

  • Elissa J. O'Keefe

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    An association between persistent Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in women and cervical cancer has been established. Young women are particularly at risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections such as HPV because of risky sexual activity and physiological immaturity. While at risk though, young women have been shown to be amenable to health promoting initiatives. There are a small number of international studies concerning adolescent HPV infection and the risk factors associated with infection, but there is currently no evidence on the prevalence and risk factors for HPV in an Australian, sexually active female adolescent population. This study aimed to provide evidence of the prevalence of HPV, risk factors associated with infection and the patterns of sexual activity in a female sexually active, senior high school population in the Australian Capital Territory. Participants in this study were a convenience sample of 161 sexually active 16-19 year old females who had an HPV test who were attending a senior high school in the Australian Capital Territory. Nurses and doctors using a clinical record collected information about sexual and other risk behaviours. Self-obtained vaginal swabs were tested for HPV DNA using the polymerase chain reaction method and genotyping was undertaken. The HPV prevalence in this cohort of young women was 1 1.2%. High-risk genotypes were found in 55.5% and multiple genotypes were found in 38.8%. There was a significant association found between HPV infection and having had more than one male partner with whom vaginal intercourse had occurred in the previous six months. No statistically significant association was found between HPV and the age of coitarche, length of time young women had been sexually active, condom use, and smoking or alcohol intake. A young age at coitarche was common for this group. Smoking and alcohol use was seen in large proportions in this group. This is the first Australian study that has examined the prevalence and risk factors for genital HPV in this demographic group. The HPV prevalence is lower than in international studies in comparable groups, in similar age groups and much lower than in older women both in Australia and overseas. With the comparatively low prevalence comes an opportunity for important public health interventions for this group including routine Pap smears, vaccination against the high-risk types of HPV when this becomes available and strategies for young women to reduce their number of male sexual partners. A substantial amount of young women in this study were sexually active aged under 16 years. Whilst this was not identified as being a risk factor in this study, it is both a health and personal safety issue for these young women. There is a demonstrated need for health promotion strategies for this cohort about the consumption of safe levels of alcohol and for smoking cessation. Further research is recommended that includes a repetition of this study with a larger sample, the use of a prospective study design to identify trends in infection and examination of HPV prevalence and risk factors for a variety of populations.
    Date of Award2004
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAnne Gardner (Supervisor)

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