STDs Expert Forum
Past HPV
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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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Past HPV

Dear Doc,
What is the protocol for informing your partner about a past HPV infection?  It seems there is a lot of disagreement about if you should tell a partner about a past HPV infection.  Some of the literature suggests that HPV is always contagious.  Is that true? What is the moral thing to do?  Can HPV be transmitted to a partner after several years of negative paps?  What can you say to a partner to reassure him and give him accurate information?  

I appreciate your help on this one.
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Welcome to the forum. Thanks for your questions.  They have been asked many times on the forum.  In addition to my reply now, below are links to three other discussions that address these issues in more detail.

"What is the protocol...?" and "What is the moral thing to do?"  This is an issue of personal preference without hard answers.  I'll just say that telling partners or not has no effect at all on their risk of catching or having HPV in either the near-term or long-term future, or on the risk they'll have any significant HPV related health problem someday.  The choice to tell or not should be considered primarily a relationship issue, not one of disease prevention.

[Is] HPV "always contagious" and "Can HPV be transmitted to a partner after several years of negative paps?"  This sometimes happens, but rarely.  HPV DNA may persist indefinitely, but the immune system normally keeps it suppressed so that it cannot be transmitted and doesn't cause future disease.

"What can you say to a partner to reassure him and give him accurate information?"  The main messages of importance are that HPV is nearly universal and unavoidable in sexually active persons; that most infections cause no important health problem and are cleared up without ever being diagnosed; that the most important outcomes that matter can largely be prevented by immunization; and that nobody should permit an impersonal bit of DNA wrapped in protein, which happened to evolve to exploit human intimacy for its own propagation, to seriously interfere with romance and rewarding sex.

Take a look at these other discussions.  You can also use the forum's search function and enter terms like "HPV disclosure" or "HPV and informing partners".

http://www.medhelp.org/posts/STDs/Handsfield-6-month-disclosure-guidelines/show/552283
http://www.medhelp.org/posts/STDs/hpv-QA/show/742564
http://www.medhelp.org/posts/STDs/HPV-without-sex/show/1799277

I hope this has helped.  Best wishes--  HHH, MD
7 Comments
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What are the real chances of transmitting HPV after 11 years?  Would you considered me cured at this point?  Is there any value in me getting the vaccine at age 41?
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You can consider yourself cured, once a year has gone by with your pap smear remaining normal.  New HPV infections are quite uncommon after the mid-20s, which is why the vaccine is generally not recommended after age 26.
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So you would really consider me non contagious at this point?  So there would really be no need to tell a future partner?

Thanks so much, Doc.
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Exactly.  Re-read my reply above; saying something or not is a relationship issue, not one of health protection.
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Why is there so many different answers when it comes to the contagious nature of Hpv?  Can we be sure that we are not contagious?  Only want to do the right thing!
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These questions suggest you didn't read or didn't understand my reply above, or the infomation in the other threads I linked.  There are "so many different answers" because a) the available data are confusing, b) some experts disagree, and c) some (most?) so-called experts don't understand that having persistent HPV doesn't mean it can be transmitted to partners.

So you continuing concerns do not change my replies above.  You can "do the right thing" by not not saying anything to partners and not worrying about it.
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H. Hunter Handsfield, M.D.Blank
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