1. My partner and I have been together for years, so how did I get genital HPV?
While the virus is transmitted through direct genital skin-to-skin contact, it can lie dormant for years and cause symptoms even years after exposure. This makes it difficult to explain to couples if they should be tested for other STDs, or to explain the “who, what, and where” aspects of such a common virus. The best approach is to simply focus on the follow up or treatment strategies.
2. Am I contagious if I have HPV?
If you have active HPV you should be considered contagious. If there are no visible lesions and after observation you have two negative Pap smears 6 months apart, you may consider yourself not contagious. The only catch is that the virus may lie dormant and there is no scientific determination as to how contagious a dormant HPV infection really is.
3. Is my HPV curable?
HPV is better thought of more treatable than curable because it may lie dormant for many years. This being said, most women will clear the virus with observation or treatment and the assistance of a healthy immune system. Clearing the virus can be called a cure. Women who have no visible lesions and two sequential (back to back) negative Pap smears 6 months apart can consider themselves free of the disease and not contagious. Those with visible warts can be considered not contagious a year after the last visible lesion is gone.
4. Will I get cervix cancer from my HPV?
The goal of early detection and treatment of genital HPV is to avoid cancer. If your HPV is detected in a timely fashion it should be very treatable and you should be able to avoid the cell changes that can lead to cancer. Some subtypes are more aggressive than others and can lead to more rapid cell changes called “high-grade”. While the progress of change is not completely predictable, most experts believe that low-grade lesions (the most common type), do not change to high-grade lesions, and may never progress to cancer.
5. Will HPV affect my fertility?
HPV does not affect fertility. It does not “move” up to the uterus, ovaries, or fallopian tubes. Treatments may slightly change the cervix, but lessening of fertility is a very rare result of treatment for HPV. Many pregnant women have a history of abnormal Pap smears, most of which were caused by HPV in the past. As explained above, most of these women are free of the disease with the help of their own immune system and time.
6. Will my HPV spread to my baby if I have it during my pregnancy?
No, HPV cannot spread to a baby during the pregnancy. Genital HPV is not considered a reason to perform Cesarean delivery (C-section). Reports of spread to an infant through vaginal delivery are extremely rare.
7. If I have genital HPV should I get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is not considered effective treatment in cases of established genital HPV. It does not harm a woman who has HPV, and offers protection against four different subtypes. It is currently recommended as a preventative vaccine for women ages 9-26. It appears safe for women with a history of HPV, and may offer protection from other subtypes in women not known to have infection with all four of the types covered by the vaccine.
8. How can I help my body rid itself of the HPV?
A healthy lifestyle that includes a daily multivitamin, good eating habits, adequate sleep, avoidance of tobacco, adequate exercise, and stress management can help maximize your immune system and help overcome the mild or low-grade forms of HPV.
9. If I have HPV found on my Pap smear am I going to someday have visible warts?
A Pap smear or a DNA test detects the most common types of genital HPV that can negatively affect the healthy cells in the genital areas. Most of these (but not all) are not visible to the naked eye. Typically if you have been diagnosed with an invisible variety of genital HPV it will not change into a variety that causes visible warty lesions. Some women may be exposed to more than one subtype of genital HPV and develop both visible and invisible lesions.
10. What do I need to tell my partner if I have been diagnosed with HPV?
Most women will talk to their sexual partners about the diagnosis once it has been confirmed that they have genital HPV. Some partners will want to have an exam through their primary care clinician, or a urologist. Most male partners of infected women will not have clear evidence of the disease. Men tend to carry the virus in areas more difficult to treat and diagnose. Those that have visible warty lesions will need treatment and generally a urologist is the preferred specialist.