Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Recently, someone I slept with 7 years ago contacted me to tell me they have HPV and had no idea when she got it so was contacting everyone she slept with to let them know. I thought it was a bit silly for her to go through such lengths to contact people because from what I understand it is incredibly common, and relatively harmless except with some kinds that can cause cancer.

My question is.. Since HPV is also not normally included in the regular battery of STD testing people get, is it something people should test for regularly even if they don't notice any warts? And if you do have it, is it really serious enough to contact all your previous partners to let them know?

Human Papilloma Virus or HPV is a very common Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). The CDC estimated in 2005 that 20 million people in the US had the virus. The reason that it is spread so easily is because most people do not know they have it because they don't show any symptoms. In fact, there are very few symptoms even associated with HPV. The known symptoms are genital warts and changes in the cells of the genitals; only one of which is visible to the naked eye. There are many different strains of HPV. The scary thing is that only the low risk strains show up as genital warts and therefore are easily detected. High risk strains, on the other hand, can go unnoticed for years because the only difference is in the change of cells.

Another reason that HPV spreads so easily is that there is no HPV test for men. Unless a man gets genital warts he does not know for sure if he has the virus or not and this only shows if he has a low risk strain.

When women get a pap smear the cells that are collected are tested to see if they are abnormal. If it turns out they are abnormal then further testing will be done to see if it is HPV. Women get abnormal pap results all the time though and it doesn't necessarily mean anything. They should always follow up with their doctors though to see if they need further testing.

HPV for the most part goes away on its own. If someone has genital warts though it is advised to have them removed so as to help prevent spreading. There are a number of different ways to remove the warts including prescription creams, burning with acid, and freezing with liquid nitrogen. High risk strains that do not go away on their own can cause cervical cancer and in lesser cases, cancer of the penis or anus. It has recently been found that HPV also has a low risk of causing throat and oral cancer.

There is no way to prevent all forms of HPV. Condoms can help, but are not perfect especially if the infected partner has genital warts in places that are not covered by the condom. HPV can also be transmitted through oral sex as well as manual stimulation.

Guardasil is an HPV vaccine offered to girls and women aged 9-26 and it has been shown to help protect against 8 strains of the virus, several of which are high risk strains, but it is not easily accessible to many females. Some people think that if girls get the vaccine they will be more likely to be promiscuous, which is just plain faulty logic in my opinion. It is also one of the most expensive vaccines on the market today, costing in the neighborhood of $400. To my knowledge, no insurance companies currently cover the cost of Guardasil.

Is it necessary for a person to contact their past sex partners to let them know that they have HPV? Yes, it is necessary to contact past sex partners for any STI that is contracted. It is the responsible, adult thing to do. However, I would say that seven years may be a bit of a stretch. It is nice to see people being responsible, but I would say that, unless you know around what time you contracted it (HPV can lay dormant for a long time), contacting your sex partners over the last 2 years would be a sufficient. 91% of new HPV infections disappear within 2 years of contracting it. However, if you feel it is your duty to contact beyond that, I say go for it.

I would ask your ex-partner what type of HPV they have. This can give you a better grasp on what the risks are and what you're looking for.


DruePhoenix said...

unfortunately the only test for the non-wart strains of HPV in men

is when your partner gets cervical cancer...

it is a far too under-publicized virus, and unfortunately with our current stranglehold on education due to "morals"

we're kind of stuck there

and 400 dollars? I personally know at least a dozen women who have received the vaccine, or have a sister who has received it, didn't know it was costing that much(well worth the price, in my opinion)

I wonder though, why can't men also receive inoculations? as we are carriers ourselves, and as far as I know, vaccines don't generally have a gender preference

Garnet Joyce said...

It is not $400 everywhere. It depends on where you go. Clinics may be able to offer it at a discount, but it is still not even available in many places. I'm sure you know people who have gotten the vaccine. It is not totally inaccessible, but the cost can be too much for some no matter how worth it it is. And for girls under 18 it can be difficult to get if her parents don't want her to.

The vaccine has not been fully tested and approved for male use. Just because something is shown to be safe and effective for women does not mean it is for men. Also I would imagine it would be more difficult to test a vaccine for men since there is no HPV test for men yet developed.

DruePhoenix said...

oh, yeah of course it's much harder to test

but still... I doubt the virus has a preference of sex... anatomically I would assume(with my vast library of medical knowledge, haha) that it should probably work as well

the only problem, is proving it

Garnet Joyce said...

men and women's bodies are different and have different hormonal levels. some things that have been shown to work in one sex, don't work in the other. it is actually a problem because not enough drugs are tested on women before they go out for sale because it is assumed that because they are fine in men, that they will be fine in women. this is not always the case.

DruePhoenix said...

well yeah, but those are drugs... I thought vaccines were technically different? or is it not an actual vaccine, and it only acts like one?

Garnet Joyce said...

you know, i'm not sure about that one. I know that HIV and Herpes vaccines that are in the development process are not like normal vaccines because they are so afraid of actually accidentally giving someone the virus. I haven't really looked too much into the actual testing of HPV. Maybe you could look into that and get back to me? Or maybe I'll have time this weekend to look ... we shall see. The life of a future sex educator is a busy one.

hauntofdresden said...

I got my shots for about $260 a piece and it was incredibly easy to get- I simply asked my doctor and within 5 minutes, I had signed the waiver, signed the check, and received the first of the three shots. I don't regret it- anything that could potentially prevent a type cancer is something that is priceless.