[Question #375] Genital Warts

35 months ago
Almost 8 years ago I was diagnosed with genital warts (condyloma). The warts were treated via freezing and Aldara, and I have not had anymore issues/reoccurrences since then. I have read everything that says the body clears the virus, but I am all the sudden concerned about transmitting the virus to my new partner. I have previously had unprotected sex with him, believing that my body has cleared/cured the virus. Am I wrong for that? I know in previous posts I have read that disclosure is personal choice, and I don't think I should disclose if there is no reason for concern. I would certainly not want him to constantly worry over symptoms he might not even develop. So I was wondering what the likelihood of my infection still remaining and being latent is exactly? I have worried myself sick and have not been able to eat. 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
35 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for your question. This type of question comes up frequently in regard to HPV.

Once genital warts clear up, they usually do not recur, and the more time passes, the less likely it is. At 8 years, it is very unlikely you still have the HPV that caused your warts, at least not in transmissible form. In other words, you are correct in believing your body has cleared the virus. (HPV DNA sometimes can persist in tissues indefinitely, but that's not the same as transmissible virus.) So from the standpoint of risking transmission of the HPV that caused your warts. I agree there is no need to say anything to your partner. As you say, discussion of past STDs with partners is sometimes a relationship issue, even if not medically necessary.

That said, there is something else to consider, which might influence a decision to discuss this with your partner. Assuming you have been sexually active with other partners in the past 8 years, you probably have been infected with other HPV strains over the years. For that reason, you could develop an abnormal pap smear or a positive HPV test, or you (or your partner) could develop other manifestations of HPV. Probably this won't happen, since most HPV infections never cause symptoms or abnormal pap smears. But if it does, your past warts probably will come up for discussion -- and you might prefer to have gotten it out of the way ahead of time. I'm not advising you to discuss your warts with your partner, but something to be aware of.

Finally, depending on your and your new partner's age (26 is the usual cut-off), vaccination against HPV is an option you may want to consider. The current vaccine, Gardasil-9, protects against the 9 types of HPV that cause 90% of warts and cancers.

I hope this has been helpful. Best wishes--  HHH, MD


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35 months ago
Actually 7 years, not 8, I miscounted (if that's even relevant). But so do you think it is safe to continue to have unprotected sex without worrying about the transmission of my past hpv? If it was transmissible I would assume he would have already caught it by now since it has been right at 4 months since we have been having unprotected sex. Since then I did have a normal check up with my gynocologist and even went back for him to make sure there were no lesions visible, and he said he saw nothing abnormal. Like I said, my main fear is not disclosing my past infection to him and then him end up showing symptoms. Otherwise I don't want him constantly searching for warts that won't ever appear. This diagnosis caused me much anxiety when I was diagnosed, and I don't want someone experiencing the same. I know hpv is a quite common infection but he actual warts still come with much emotional distress I wouldn't wish on anyone else. 
35 months ago
I was also reading other posts on this topic on the message boards and came across this in part of your discussion with another person about it showing up in her husband 21 years later. 

""Is it possible for genital warts to lay dormant for this long and for only one of us showing symptoms?" Yes, indeed. This is not at all rare."

So if it is not rare at all for it to remain latent that long, does that also mean that it is not rare that mine will return? Or that I can infect him while I am not showing any symptoms still? I felt a lot better about my situation until coming across that thread. 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
35 months ago
You need to put my comments into context of individual questions. In the larger picture, it is "not rare" for warts to reappear in the same way that it is "not rare" to read about someone being hit by lightning. For any one person with healed genital warts, the large majority never have a recurrence -- just as most people aren't going to suffer lightning strikes. In other words, it's a very different thing to advise a person who has suffered an uncommon event and to reassure her that there are no implications for sexual infidelity; and to advise someone who is worried about an event that is unlikely to occur. The first situation applies in the other question you quote. The second applies to you.

Is it possible you still have an active infection with the HPV that caused your warts? Yes. Is it likely? No, it is very unlikely. At this time, there is no point in changing your sexual lifestyle or practices with your partner. In the unlikely chance you still have HPV (or if you acquired a new HPV infection since the warts), it is likely your partner already has caught it. Taking precautions now is closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. But as I said above, most likely nothing will happen.

My other advice is that you stop searching this forum or the internet for more information about warts and their recurrence. It is apparent that you are being drawn to information that reinforces your abnormally high anxieties about all this and missing the reassuring parts. I would suggest you carefully re-read my comments above, try to understand and believe them, and then do your best to move on.

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35 months ago
I do understand that my anxiety is most of my problem in this, and that I should listen to more of the positive. However yesterday in checking myself down there due to my anxiety about this I came across a spot that is questionable. I did have my doctor check in September and he said he saw nothing abnormal, but I'm not sure if this area was present then or not. I have attached a picture to hopefully get your thoughts on if it could be normal or scaring or possibly warts returning. 
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
35 months ago
We don't examine posted photos and I won't look at yours. As clearly stated on the forum home page, we do not provide direct medical care or try to make a diagnosis or provide treatment. We can only discuss possibilities and probabilities. And you have already been reassured by a doctor that nothing is wrong. Almost certainly you are just looking too closely and noticing some minor variation in the normal appearnce of genital tissues.

You clearly are obsessed with this. Most people with past (or even current) genital warts understand they are a minor inconvenience, not a serious health threat, and don't feel as much stigma as you apparently do. If these issues are dominating your life as much as it seems, then professional counseling might be in order. Or maybe discuss it with your partner. Most people won't be so upset about the possibility of genital warts, and you might find him to be a source of support. In any case, I have reassured you as much as I can and have nothing more to add. And we're also reached the forum limit of two follow-up questions and replies, so that will end this thread.

Best wishes and happy new year.

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