[Question #7099] HPV Indirect Contact

8 months ago
Hi, I recently have been reading alot of updated information regarding  indirect contact spreading HPV. I am wondering what are the chances of spreading HPV in the following cases:

1) I touch my underwear (by pulling them up or adjusting them) which are touching a wart .. and then touched an object around the house or another part of my body before laying down on my bed. Could someone catch it by touching the object or laying in my bed? Or by touching the part of my body that I touched?

2) If I am wearing lose clothing, could someone catch it by dry humping or touching me on the outside of my pants? Especially if I have HPV associated discharge?

3) if I touch my underwear and then accidentally touch my hair, can HPV survive in hair and spread into other objects?

I realize most of my questions are anxiety based, however, the internet is a very confusing place now a days. Thank you for your time
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
8 months ago

Welcome to our Forum and thanks for your question.  The internet is certainly misleading on this topic, as it is on many more.  I'll do my best to help.  In reading your question, I note that you do not mention whether or not you have HPV, nor whether or not you have taken the HPV vaccine.  By way of background, I must point out that for sexually active persons who have not had the vaccine, they will almost certainly get HPV at some time in their lives.  Even monogamy is not protection if one's partner has had other partners. That said, the infection only rarely leads to serious consequences and those can be managed very well with regularly scheduled PAP smears and HPV testing.  Thus it is a widespread problem that we try hard to encourage clients to not worry about.  That advice extends to questions about non-sexual transmission of the virus.

As for your question, HPV is first, foremost and almost always acquired through DIRECT, UNPROTECTED sexual contact.  While in the same way that I cannot tell you that you will not be struck by lightening today, I cannot tell you that HPV is never acquired through indirect means such as contact with a contaminated surface or transfer on a partners hands HOWEVER, those events are so incredibly rare that they are not something to worry about.   99.99%  (i.e. less than 1 in 10,000 such contacts) of the sorts of situations you describe will not lead to transmission of infection. Thus we classify non-sexual transmission as something that virtually never happens and should not be a concern. 

To elaborate on your specific questions:

1) I touch my underwear (by pulling them up or adjusting them) which are touching a wart .. and then touched an object around the house or another part of my body before laying down on my bed. Could someone catch it by touching the object or laying in my bed? Or by touching the part of my body that I touched?
No.  HPV is virtually never transmitted even by direct transfer from an infected site and then to a hand and then onto another persons as might happen during mutual masturbation.  The situation you describe, and the idea that you can transfer HPV to your hand by touching your underwear, then touching another object in your house which then becomes a site of infection for another person in your household is simply not possible.  I would not worry about this possibility at all.  Similarly, HPV is not spread to other parts of an infected person's body by touching an infected site, then touching another part of the body. 

2) If I am wearing lose clothing, could someone catch it by dry humping or touching me on the outside of my pants? Especially if I have HPV associated discharge?
First, HPV does not cause discharge.  Secondly, there is no reason to worry that HPV might be transmitted through clothing during touching or frottage (dry humping).

3) if I touch my underwear and then accidentally touch my hair, can HPV survive in hair and spread into other objects.
No

I hope this information is helpful.  I urge you not to worry about the situations you describe.  If any part of this response is unclear please don't hesitate to use your up to two follow-ups for clarification.  EWH
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8 months ago
Thank you so much. I do have HPV, or did, not sure if it is back. I had genital warts about ten years ago and high risk HPV last year. I recently found a bump and am not sure what it is. 

I know there has been recent information published about HPV being spread via medical instruments, towels and sex toys. This spiked my anxiety on indirect transmission. 

I also read that it could possibly be spread through blood, due to people receiving blood transfusions and testing positive after. I know I need to stay off the internet but it can be hard. Do I need to worry about that if a wart is bleeding? I assume your advice about not spreading it through clothing remains true, even if there were some blood?

Last part, I didn't think discharge was a part of HPV, but I did read it was a symptom on several sites. So I wanted to check because sometimes I do have more than normal discharge.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
8 months ago

Thanks for your follow-up information and questions.  I hope my initial responses were helpful and will try to build on them.  I will also add that I appreciate just how hard it is to stay of the internet, as well as to discern what is correct and what's not when we see it there.

The information on spread, and potential for spread by inanimate objects has brought attention to the fact that this does occur, albeit quite rarely.  Unfortunately, what so many of those reports lack is perspective. The FACT is that such spread is rare and when studied in the context of all risks for HPV acquisition is inconsequential.

HPV is not spread through blood.  Any suggestion that it is in incorrect.  If a visible wart is bleeding, there are no data to suggest that this makes spread easier.    Same for bleeding through clothing.

On occasion women seeking evaluation of a discharge are found to have HPV or warts but that is coincidental.  HPV does not cause discharge. Glad you asked.

EWH

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8 months ago
Thank you again. So just so I am clear:

The reason it is possible, although rare, with the medical instruments and sex toys, etc. Is because it is directly touching an infected area into another genital area?

Whereas my scenarios involve touching various things to the point where transmission isn't possible?

Lastly, when I am drying off from the shower, I use one towel for my body and I try not to touch any part of my body once it touches my genital area. However, sometime I do accidentally touch my back or leg. I have been reshowering multiple times a day because of this. I get scared to do anything, such as wash dishes, until I shower again because I sit there thinking "what if I touch my back before putting a dish away?" 

you're advice is that there is no risk of transmission in this scenario as well? And if I touch my hair after this scenario, no need to wash it before going to bed?

In case it isn't obvious yet, I do have OCD and it truly interferes with my ability to function properly in situations like this. I know this is my last response allowed, so I thank you for the time you are taking. 
8 months ago
The towel sometimes touches my leg or back after touching where the possible wart is. Sorry it wouldn't let me edit the response
Edward W. Hook M.D.
Edward W. Hook M.D.
8 months ago
Transmission of HPV on properly cleaned medical instruments is, to my knowledge purely theoretical.  As for sex toys, transmission occurs only when they are shared without proper cleaning.  Neither is something to worry about.

You are overly concerned about contamination through contact with a used towel.  This scenario is unrealistic.  So is your concern about touching your hair.

I presume you are working with a therapist to address your OCD.  The concerns you mention in this thread are not realistic.

I hope that the information I have provided is helpful.  As per forum guidelines, with this third reply, this thread will be closed shortly without further replies.  Take care, please don’t worry.  EWH
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