[Question #1067] Male with Past Exposure to HPV

87 months ago

~10 years ago I dated a girl who had an abnormal pap caused by HPV (this occurred shortly before we met); she had a procedure to remove the abnormal cells before we engaged in sexual activity.  During that relationship (which lasted less than a year) we had sex ~12-15 times; the first ~5 times we used condoms, the rest we did not. I’ve never had warts or lesions, nor have I ever been diagnosed with HPV.

I am now married to a wonderful woman whom I care about deeply. I did not have any sexual partners between the relationship described above and my wife (and my sexual history prior to the relationship described above was very limited). When I began dating my wife, my doctor advised me not to worry about my prior exposure to HPV and that there is no need to mention it to her, so I did not.

My wife and I have decided to start a family.  Prior to now, we have had sex only ~10 times and have used a condom.  We will of course be having sex much more often and without protection as we try to conceive.  I have recently developed (perhaps irrational?) fears that I will pass HPV to my wife while we are trying to conceive, and that the resulting HPV infection could impact the pregnancy and/or be passed to the child we hope to have (which terrifies me).  I have also developed regret/guilt that I didn’t inform my wife of this prior exposure (but I am fearful that doing so now will be very upsetting & cause potentially unnecessary worry).  

I know that, even if I did get HPV ~10 years ago, there is only a very small chance I still have it.  But, in the event I happen to be one of the unlucky few who are unable to clear the virus, do you have any insights on the effect of high-risk HPV on pregnancy (e.g., risks of complications) and impacts to babies born to mothers with recently-acquired high-risk HPV (I am aware of extremely rare cases where babies contract RRP from mothers with low-risk HPV). 

My wife is over 30 and has not had the HPV vaccine. 

H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
87 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for question. It's a common one: scan the HPV related question already posted and answered; you'll find many discussions about past HPV, persistence of the virus, and risk of late transmission to partners.

The bottom line is that your wife is at no higher risk at all on account of your relationship with an HPV infected person 10 years earlier. Almost all sexually active persons get HPV at least once, often several times; and the high risk types are the most common. Had your former partner never told you about her HPV infection and abnormal pap (which ethically she was not required to do), you would have been better off for not knowing about it. Since almost everyone gets, and at any point in time 20-50% of sexually active persons age 20-25 are carrying HPV, exposures to your past partner does not materially increase the chance you were infected or your wife's chance of being infected at this time.

Further, even if we assume you acquired your former partner's HPV infection, almost certainly it is long gone by now. The immune system clears up HPV (or at least suppresses it to the point it cannot be detected or transmitted), usually within 1-2 years. So even if you were infected then, it's a good bet your infection is gone and cannot be transmitted to your wife.

Finally, to your main question:  HPV has absolutely no effect on conception, pregnancy, or delivery, or child health. You are aware of respiratory papillomatosis, i.e. warts of the larynx and vocal cords in young infants. However, it occurs almost entirely when the mom has untreated genital warts at the time of vaginal delivery. Absent visible warts, this is not a risk. In any case, there are no known risks to babies born to moms with active high risk HPV infections; and as already discussed, the chance your wife has such an infection, or would have it when she goes into labor with your future kids, is very low. (That said, your wife probably has had her own HPV infections in the past. In the event she ever has an HPV related problem, it will more likely be reactivation of her own infection than the one that infected your partner a decade earlier.)

So this situation should not be a cause of worry at all, either for your wife's health or her future pregnancies and children. She, you, and your future kids are at no more than average risk for HPV experienced by almost all married couples in industrialized, western countries. HPV is a fact of life, but not something to lose sleep over.

I hope this has been helpful, but let me know if anything isn't clear. Best wishes for success in your family plans!