3 years ago at my annual exam, my OB/GYN performed both a PAP and HPV test. (A little history: I've had a few abnormal paps in the past, but this was prior to the HPV test existing, so I followed the routine "wait 6 months and see" and after both times - I went back into a pattern of having years of normal paps.) Three years ago when I had the HPV test for the first time - my pap actually came back slightly abnormal again and my doctor said it was likely due to a yeast infection, and my HPV Test came back negative. The year after, my PAP came back normal and I was not tested for HPV at that time. I went in for my annual about a week ago and my doctor just let me know that my PAP was normal, but that my HPV test did come back positive.
What I'm curious about is whether it's possible that I am having a recurrance of HPV - from a strain I may have had years ago? Or would the negative HPV test from 3 years ago rule that out and mean that the HPV test I just took is showing a new HPV infection?
I did start a new relationship right around 3 years ago, after my negative HPV Test. My doctor felt that this HPV Test is likely showing a new exposure to HPV for me, however, I'm not 100% up to speed on how potential HPV dormancy can affect HPV tests and haven't been able to find any information on this yet.
First, you can be sure your first HPV infection goes back to a time before your "few abnormal paps" in the pre-HPV testing era. Although it wasn't known at the time, today we know that almost all abnormal paps are due to HPV -- even when HPV doesn't show up on a test.
Second, the direct answer to your main question is yes: HPV can go dormant, with negative tests, then reappear months or even years later. But usually, once HPV goes away, it is gone for good. For that reason, your doctor is exactly right: since you are sexually active, your current positive test is more likely due to a new infection than to reappearance of an old one.
Probably you're never going to know for sure whether your have a new infection or a recurrent one. And it really doesn't matter. The important thing is to follow your doctor's advice about follow-up, so that if pre-cancerous changes occur in your cervix they can be treated. This approach is nearly 100% effective in preventing cancer -- since the average time from a pap abnormality to actual cancer is 10 years or more.
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