What’s left of Henrietta Lacks?
Vol. 22 No. 10 · 18 May 2000
I was fascinated by Anne Enright’s account of the ‘immortal cells’ of Henrietta Lacks (LRB, 13 April), but she should not think that the presence of papilloma virus type 18 in HeLa cells necessarily means that Lacks had genital warts and that she ‘slept around’. It is true that this virus is occasionally found in visible genital warts and that population studies show that the major risk factor for acquiring genital papilloma virus infection is sexual behaviour, particularly multiple sex partners. However, genital papilloma virus, or any other sexually transmitted infection, can be acquired through a single sexual encounter with an infected person.
Dunedin, New Zealand