[Question #475] HPV Clearance/Reactivation

38 months ago

8 years ago I began a relationship with a woman who, only a few weeks before our relationship started, had an abnormal pap and was informed that she had HPV (of the high-risk variety).  Our relationship lasted for ~5 months during which time we had sexual contact, including unprotected intercourse. 

If I acquired HPV during the course of that relationship ~8 years ago, is it safe to assume that, given the amount of time that has now passed, my immune system has long since "cleared" the virus to the point that it is not transmittable?

If so, what is the risk of the "cleared" virus reactivating to the point of being transmittable to others? 

I am 37, generally healthy (i.e., no chronic conditions or other serious illnesses), and a non-smoker, but have been dealing with a significant amount of work-related stress and anxiety over the past few months. Could that stress and anxiety (and related lack of sleep) suppress my immune system to the point where reactivation would be a concern?  



Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
38 months ago
Welcome to our forum.  If you were not already infected, there is a good probability that you acquired HPV during your relationship with your HPV-infected partner.  Studies of the natural history of HPV infection also suggest that within a few months following acquisition, your infection would have cleared without therapy.   At that time, to the best of our knowledge, you would not be infectious to other sexual partners, nor would you be at risk for the rare consequences of chronic HPV infection in men (I.e. Penile cancer).  Whether or not Clarence of infection represents true elimination of infection or simply a quiescent state is a matter of debate.  Either way however this is not something you should worry about. Genital male cancers related to HPV infection are very, very rare and should they occur would become apparent by the appearance of the skin lesion. Should that unlikely event occur, there would be plenty of time to seek a valuation and, if necessary therapy from a dermatologist.

My advice to you is not to worry about this long distant exposure.  Similarly, I would not worry that your anxiety over these events would in any way affect your immunity or ability to resist infection.

I hope these comments are helpful to you. Take care. EWH
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38 months ago
Dr. Hook, 

Thank you very much for your response.  I note that my concern is not with my own health (e.g., penile cancer), but with the health of a female partner.  In other words, my concern is whether--because of my exposure to HPV ~8 years ago--I currently pose risk of infecting a woman with whom I may begin sexual contact in the future (including unprotected intercourse).  Based on your response, it sounds like the possibility of transmission (assuming that I was infected ~8 years ago) at this point is remote and not something to be concerned about, is that correct? 

-T.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
38 months ago

Yes, that is correctr.  Further and perhaps more importantly, please remember that most sexually active people will have HPV at some time in your life.  The problem is not HPV infections but that a VERY small proportion of persons with HPV then co on to develop cancer.  Fortunately however, for over 50 years women have had accesd to PAP smears which are very good for identifying pre-cancerous lesions before they go on to evolve to cancer, allowing for curative therapy.  Thus:

1.  You are unlikely to have  transmitted HPV acquired long ago to your current partner because you are unlikely to have HPV at this time (the infections clear themselves);

2.  If you current partner has been sexually active with others in the past (even with one partner), then she likely had, HPV as well;

3.  As long as she follows recommendations for regular sexual health checks with her gynecologist, she will be regularly screen for pre-cancerous lesions

You need not worry.  EWH

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