STDs Expert Forum
How long can the virus lay dormant? Very confused!
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The STD Forum is intended only for questions and support pertaining to sexually transmitted diseases other than HIV/AIDS, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, human papillomavirus, genital warts, trichomonas, other vaginal infections, nongonoccal urethritis (NGU), cervicitis, molluscum contagiosum, chancroid, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). All questions will be answered by H. Hunter Handsfield, M.D. or Edward W Hook, MD.

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How long can the virus lay dormant? Very confused!

I have been with my husband for 9 years and he is the only sexual partner that I have ever had.  I have two children and have had several paps in the past few years, however, I don't know if I had ever been tested for hpv, since I had never had abnormal pap tests, would the doctor normally run this exam when I was pregnant? I just today had a colposcopy to biopsy slight abnormal cells, the dr. said had come from hpv.
He said this is a virus i would have come into contact up to the last 3-5 years, basically said my husband had brought this into our life.  I am soooo confused, I have accused him of cheating, etc.. But now, I have read the virus can lay dormant for years.  So my main question is,could I have gotten this from him from previous partners that he had had? Before our marriage- 9 years ago?  Some articles say yes, others say that I would have/ should have fought this virus off in 1-2 years, so I am totally confused.  I understand if we do not have these answers, but why would my doctor say this with such certainty to me, I can only assume it is because of something I am not understanding, could it be because I have been tested for hpv in the past so he knows it is a new thing or could i have had it and it lay dormant? I am so confused,,,,please help!!!  
Tags: biopsy, virus
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The topic of HPV and genital warts is a complex one.  I will try to provide some facts.  For addition information on this most common of STDs, I would suggest search for other HPV- and wart-related Q&A on this site, as well seeking addition information on sites such as the American Social health Association web-site (disclosure, Dr. Handsfield and I are both on the Board of ASHA)..

HPV is the most commonly acquired STD.  Over 85% of sexually active women will have HPV infection at some time in their lives.  Nearly 50% of women become infected within a year of the time they begin to have sex.  We know less about the course of HPV infection in men but it is reasonable to assume that HPV behaves similarly in men as women (with the exception that men do not get cancer of the cervix and its analogous problem, cancer of the penis is very, very rare). In some HPV will cause genital warts, in others it will not cause warts but may lead to changes in PAP smears.  In most who get HPV, warts or otherwise, the infections will resolve by themselves without therapy in 8-10 months.  In a very small minority of men and women, HPV infection can persist (even for years) and lead to the pre-cancerous lesions that PAP smears detect and which can then be treated.  

I obviously cannot comment on your husband or his behavior. I can say however that your doctor has overstated things.  My guess is that in the past you have had Pap smears although probably not specific tests for HPV (while regular Pap smears are recommended, HPV tests are not recommended as a routine part of care).  The changes that Pap smears detect can take years to develop.  It is not at all uncommon for women to develop abnormal pap smears years after HPV infection and indeed, not all Pap smear changes are due to HPV.  To assume that one can make categorical statements that you have been recently infected or that the infection has only been present for 3-5 years is incorrect.

Hope this is helpful. EWH


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Today is July 16 2011 my question is yesterday I got a call from a clinic telling me that I tested positive for sypilis can this at the beginning stage lay dormant because as far as I can remember I've never saw the ulcer or thing you get on your weenie or vagina I don't have the rash on my hands or feet I do get headaches and have had some weight lose and tired a lot the same for my lhusband of six seven years so please I'm lbegging you is it possible that it could have laid dormat in the primary stages??? I don't want to die please help
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H. Hunter Handsfield, M.D.Blank
University of Washington
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Edward W Hook, MDBlank
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