HPV transmission

Patient

Q: My girlfriend has just informed me that she has HPV. She said it is a strain not associated with genital warts, but with cervical cancer. Obviously I won't get warts, and I probably wouldn't show any signs or symptoms. However, I certainly don't want to carry this virus if our relationship is not long term.

If I wear a condom properly, will I still be at the same risk as I would if this were a genital wart strain? I understand how skin-to-skin contact can transmit the genital wart strain, but if I wear a condom, how can her strain transmit to me?

Doctor

A:   Genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas of males and females. These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it.Some of those types can cause cervical cancer. These types can also cause other, less common but serious cancers, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and head and neck (tongue, tonsils and throat).The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer. HPV is passed on through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex and genital-to-genital contact. HPV can be passed on between straight and same-sex partnerseven when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms. HPV can cause normal cells on infected skin to turn abnormal. Most of the time, you cannot see or feel these cell changes. In most cases, the body fights off HPV naturally and the infected cells then go back to normal. But in cases when the body does not fight off HPV, HPV can cause visible changes in the form of genital warts or cancer. Warts can appear within weeks or months after getting HPV. Cancer often takes years to develop after getting HPV. It would be recommended for you to take also a test to rule out HPV.I would suggest you to wear condoms to prevent transmission; Also Vaccines can protect males and females against some of the most common types of HPV. These vaccines are given in three shots. It is important to get all three doses to get the best protection and finally being in a faithful relationship with one partner; limiting their number of sex partners; and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners are other ways to prevent transmission. I wish you the best.

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