My partner and I have been exclusive for over two and a half years. A year into our relationship, he developed genital warts from a previous partner. Since I had aleady been exposed, we didn’t really take necessary precautions. However, I still have no signs of the disease.
The bad thing is, I am terrified that since his showed up later, it may do the same to me — this sounds bad, but I’m especially worried about around my mouth. How contagious are genital warts when there are currently none on the outside of his body? I am fully aware that the virus never goes away. Please advise, and what would they look like in the mouth? I know how they appear elsewhere.
My question is about genital warts. Is it a disease that has no cure? I know the lesions go away, but does that mean you still have the disease?
There has been a great deal of fear generated in the popular media about genital warts and human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes them. Since HPV has been implicated as a cause of cancer of the cervix, this is in some ways understandable, but we have unfortunately had little hard information about the transmission of the virus, how long if infects people, whether it can ever be cured, and who is actually at risk of developing cancer because of the infection. I have chosen these two letters to provide an update on our current knowledge.
Past studies of women with cervical cancer and/or genital warts have demonstrated the presence of HPV in a high percentage of cases. But until recently, there have been no studies following normal women, who do not have warts or cancer, to see how often they are infected. Such studies have only recently been reported, using careful genetic probes to test for the presence of the virus, or by using blood tests. These are research procedures and are not widely available for routine clinical use.
Several of these studies have looked at the occurrence of HPV in college women, who pretty much stay in one place for four years, allowing a fairly long follow-up. The most recent study started testing women four times a year for HPV beginning when they were freshmen in college, and has produced many fascinating findings, which I will try to briefly summarize.
On the first examination, 11.2 percent of the women had antibodies to one strain of HPV, meaning that they had had the infection at some time, but only 6.9 percent had the virus in their vaginas. This means that about half of infected women got over the infection. (It could be that the test for HPV in the vagina is less sensitive, but other evidence supports the idea that many women get over the infection.)
By the end of four years, 80 percent of the sexually active women had been infected with HPV. In 90 percent of these infected women, no warts or abnormalities on the Pap smear were present.
Although the large majority of infections came from sexual relations, a minority were attributed to contact with inanimate objects.
The rate of transmission through oral sex was extremely small if it occurred at all. About 0.17 percent of women who had had oral sex had virus in their mouths, and about 0.12 percent of women who denied ever having had oral sex also had virus in their mouths. That’s about one in a thousand.
An earlier study of college women had shown that many became infected with one strain of HPV, then lost it and sometimes became infected with a different strain. Other studies have shown that women who smoke are less likely to clear HPV than women who don’t. Cervical cancer is also more common in women who smoke than in those who don’t.
The conclusions I draw from this are: HPV infection is very, very common. Most infections are cleared without ever showing up as a wart. Since cervical cancer is becoming uncommon, the vast majority of HPV infections never lead to any serious disease. Smoking is a serious factor in cervical cancer — yet another reason to quit. Occasionally women can catch HPV through non-sexual means.
So, I would reassure our writer. The infection does go away, most infected people never get a wart, and transmission through oral sex is rare. I also want to repeat my statement from other postings: Always practice safe sex with new partners to protect yourself from the really nasty viruses like HIV and hepatitis B. If those are not a problem for either of you, and you are in a long-term monogamous relationship, you may decide that you’ll share your less dangerous viruses like HPV or herpes.
Now what we need is a good study on men to figure out how all these women are being infected by men who have no obvious warts.