[Question #7434] HPV Benchmarks

3 months ago
Hello!

I was recently diagnosed with HPV, one of the strains that cause genital warts. They were treated about two weeks ago.

Through my research I've found that the body clears 90% of HPV infections within two years. Great.

I know for men there's no way to tell for sure if your body has cleared the virus. But is there a timeframe that I can reasonably assume it will be cleared by? Like, if I go X amount of time with no symptoms then I probably don't have it anymore? And I don't have to tell my partners?

Also, is it still worth getting the vaccine if I already have it?

For additional context, I'm a 31 year old cisgender male.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
3 months ago
Welcome to the forum. Thanks for your confidence in our services.

Presumably you mean you have been diagnosed with genital or anal area warts, correct? Or were you tested for HIV and have a reported result of HPV type 6 or 11, the main types that cause warts.  

Your initial research has been effective. However, the time frames for HPV clearance are not precise. Potential for transmission to partners probably is at least moderately reduced -- maybe greatly reduced -- once visible warts have been treated and are gone, i.e. just a week or two. However, infection indeed can persist much longer. Whether and for how long current or future sex partners should be informed is a largely personal decision. I agree that it's definitely unnecessary after two years, but if you are asymptomatic without overt warts, I'm not sure you need to say anything at all. HPV is so common that all sexually active persons -- including your future or potential partners -- are at risk, and telling them of any particular risk doesn't make much difference to them.

You're beyond the usual age for HPV vaccination. After age 26, the chance is good you've already been infected with some of the 9 types covered by the vaccine, and the risk of new infections also is reduced after that time. 

Looking forward to learning more details of your diagnosis. I hope this reply is helpful in the meantime.

HHH, MD
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3 months ago
I was diagnosed with genital warts. About a month ago I found a lesion on my groin, I went to a dermatologist, he did a biopsy, and it came back as a condyloma. Then he froze off the remainder of the lesion.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
3 months ago
Thanks. That helps clarify things.  

Initial genital warts, i.e. newly acquired, usually involve the sites of friction during sex:  penis, vaginal opening or labia, anus for receptive anal sex. That's because mere superficial contact with HPV isn't sufficient for infection; the virus must be massaged into the skin. When single warts appear in the general area but not exactly on the genitals -- such as the groin -- usually it's due to reactivation of a past infection. Given your age, the odds are you acquired this particular HPV infection many years ago. Without visible warts on the penis, the chances are you are not infectious for current or future partners. Back in "the day" -- 20-30 years ago, before we understood much about HPV natural history, latent infection, and so on -- someone like you would have been told to jusg forget it. I believe that advice remains valiid and it's what I used to advice. To my recollection, no such patient ever contacted me later to report he or she had infected a partner.
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3 months ago
Thank you for clarifying Dr. Handsfield. I guess that does kind of make sense. The first time I noticed it was pretty much immediately after having some very rough and sweaty sex. So maybe that reactivated it. 

I guess it's just weird since this is the first time I've noticed them. And I've always been very paranoid about STDs so I payed real close attention to it. But anyway...

So I guess to sum things up: I've probably had this for years. It will probably remain latent in my system for the rest of my life. But if I don't have any visible warts, it's a very low possibility that I will pass it on to my partners, even without protection? (definitely not saying I don't plan on forgoing condoms I'm just trying to gauge how much I need to adapt my sex life moving forward). Is that all fair to assume at this point?

Is there still any possibility my immune system will clear this? And am I correct in my understanding that you are saying it's not worth it to get the vaccine anymore?
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
3 months ago
"...if I don't have any visible warts, it's a very low possibility that I will pass it on to my partners, even without protection?"  Correct -- although maybe delete "very". The risk certainly isn't zero. On the other hand, many or most partners might already have had the same HPV types, or they may have been vaccinated -- in which case they won't be at risk at all.

"Is there still any possibility my immune system will clear this?" Science doesn't know whether all HPV infections persist in laten form, or if some (most?) are entirely eradicated. What we do know is that late recurrences, although fairly common, typically do not keep continuing for years. Most likely you'll never have another outbreak.

"...you are saying it's not worth it to get the vaccine anymore?" There are no hard and fast rules on this. But I wouldn't recommend it to my patients, or for myself if I were at your age. But if you anticipate fairly frequent sex partners going forward and would get peace of mind by the improved protection, feel free. Vaccination would be harmless, except maybe for your wallet:  at your age your medical insurance might not cover it and you'd probably pay $500-700. 

That concludes the two follow-up exchanges included with each question and so ends this thread. I hope the discussion has been helpful.
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