Whether antibodies to human papillomavirus (HPV) capsids, elicited by natural infection, are protective is unknown. This question was addressed in a population-based cohort of 7046 women in Costa Rica by examining the association between baseline seroreactivity to HPV-16, HPV-18, or HPV-31 virus-like particles and the risk of subsequent HPV infection at a follow-up visit 5-7 years after enrollment. Seropositivity to HPV-16, HPV-18, or HPV-31 was not associated with a statistically significant decreased risk of infection with the homologous HPV type [relative risk (RR) and [95% confidence interval (CI)], 0.74 (0.45-1.2), 1.5 (0.83-2.7), and 0.94 (0.48-1.8), respectively]. Seropositivity to HPV-16 or HPV-31 was not associated with a decreased risk of infection with HPV-16 or its genetically related types [RR (95% CI), 0.82 (0.61-1.1) and 0.93 (0.68-1.2), respectively]. Seropositivity to HPV-18 was not associated with a decreased risk of infection with HPV-18 or its genetically related types (RR 1.3; 95% CI 1.0-1.8). Thus, we did not observe immunity, although a protective effect from natural infection cannot be excluded because of the limits of available assays and study designs.
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