Does a Pap Smear Show the Presence of HIV?

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What is Pap Smear?

Pap smear or Pap test is a procedure where cell samples from the woman’s cervix are collected and spread on a slide and sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope for presence of abnormalities. The term “Pap” is coined after the name of Dr. George N. Papanicolaou, the person responsible for the development of the test, in 1943. Pap smears are used as screening test for cervical cancer in women. It can frequently detect the presence of these pre-cancerous lesions, and allow treatment before it develops into a cancer.

A Pap test should be performed in women within three years of first sexual intercourse, or at age 21. Women 30 years old and above are recommended to undergo regular Pap tests.

What is HIV?

HIV or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus that precedes autoimmune deficiency syndrome or AIDS. HIV is a retrovirus and belongs in the subset, lentivirus. It is a slow growing virus and onset of symptoms usually starts manifesting years later after being infected by the virus.

Many people with HIV are often not aware that they are infected. The most common symptoms they manifest occurs days or weeks after the infection, and these include flu-like sickness such as fever, fatigue, headache and swollen lymph nodes around the neck area. But these symptoms typically disappears few weeks after then the person remains asymptomatic for years. Even though the person manifests no symptoms, he can still pass the virus to others.

The disease progression varies in every patient depending on the immune system of the individual. At the asymptomatic phase, the virus reproduces actively and kills the immune system, especially the CD4 cells, a white blood cell which is important in the body’s fight against infections.

Does a Pap Smear show the presence of HIV?

Although Pap smear can detect the presence of infections, it alone cannot conclude the presence of HIV. Typically, test for HIV is taken through a blood test. Only the screening of blood is considered as the most reliable means to verify if the person is positive or not. It is impossible to determine the status of the person via the Pap smear. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that some indicators for HIV infection may be seen during the procedure. Indicators for the presence of HIV infection may include cervical dysplasia and pelvic inflammatory disease.

CDC also cited that women who are positive with HIV are 10 times more likely to have an abnormal result in the Pap test compared to women with negative HIV results. Hence, as soon as the doctor or gynecologist suspects the abnormalities seen on the test, he will usually recommend further work-up to confirm his suspicions.

References

MedicineNet.com: Pap Smear

emedicinehealth: HIV / AIDS