I have recently been diagnosed with genital warts. I have never cheated on my wife (we have been together for ten years). My wife tells me she has never had an extramarital affair, and I believe her. Is it possible to contract genital warts from other than sexual contact? Should I take precautions not to pass this on to others? I am especially concerned about passing this to our children.
After genital herpes, genital warts are probably the most feared and misunderstood disease around, at least judging from the number of letters I get about them. I have discussed warts — the result of human papillomavirus infection (HPV) — a couple of times in the past.
People can get warts anywhere on their skin surface or mucous membranes, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. The vast majority of these infections are not sexually transmitted. Many are probably transmitted through inanimate objects, like massage tables, locker room floors, perhaps casual contact like shaking hands, and yes, I do believe, from toilet seats. HPV and herpes (though not all doctors would agree about herpes) are in fact the only diseases considered to be STDs that can be transmitted through toilet seats. HPV has been found in the genitals of young girls who have never had any sexual contact, so they must have caught it in some other way.
A recent study performed among college women who were tested frequently over a three or four-year period found that 60 percent of them had a genital HPV infection at some point during the study. A previous study which did not last as long or do as many tests, at another university found 40 percent of women to be infected. Most of these women will never have an obvious wart or even an abnormal PAP smear, and they appear to frequently lose their infection.
It is quite clear that the HPV can live in normal skin without producing a wart. No one knows how long it may be there and then pop up as an obvious wart. I think it is possible that you could have been infected for more than ten years, and only now developed a wart. Or you may have caught it from an inanimate object.
It is important to keep in mind that although warts are ugly, and occasionally painful on the soles of the feet, most of them do not cause serious life-threatening disease. A few strains, (about five out of the 59 or so strains that are known) can cause cancer of the cervix and a couple of other, rarer cancers. The strains that cause obvious genital warts on the male penis are not the strains that cause cancer of the cervix. Cancer of the cervix and its precursors can be identified easily on PAP smears, and all women should get them regularly. Almost all cases of cancer of the cervix in this country occur in women who have never had a PAP smear or have not had one in a long time.
So I think you should get your wart treated, since it is probably unattractive, and you don’t want to pass it to your wife and cause her to have unattractive warts. But it won’t give her cancer of the cervix, and it poses no threat that we know of to the children you have.