How is HPV transmitted?
- HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. It is passed along by skin-to-skin contact. The forms of sexual contact by which a person can get an HPV infection include vaginal, oral, and anal sex.
- HPV can also be transmitted from rubbing which may occur during foreplay. In these instances, the infection which first appeared on areas outside the body can spread to areas inside the body.
- HPV transmitted during oral sex can result in infections of the tonsils and tongue (oropharyngeal infections). These infections affect both women and men but occur much more frequently in men.
HPV can also be transmitted by the fingers. A patient or their partner may have HPV on the skin of their fingers from touching a touching an infected area. Alternatively, they may have HPV underneath their nails. An HPV infection can thus be spread by touching oneself or others or during the bathing process or touching different areas of the body. This explains cases of HPV in the anal area in men or women who have not had sexual activity in this area.
Risk of transmission to a partner
The growths may resolve on their own without treatment. They can also remain unchanged in size and number or increase in size and number and spread to infect entirely new areas. Early stage infection can be difficult to detect when the bumps are small and blend in with the normal skin.
Genital warts are very contagious and present a real risk of infection to a partner. Preventive measures should be taken until the genital warts are treated in order to not put partners at risk.
What are the symptoms of having an infection?
Many patients are not aware of the fact that they have an HPV infection. The growths can be subtle and often do not cause any symptoms. Therefore, even new small growths should be checked out by a doctor because the most innocuous bump can be an early sign of HPV infection.
Woman often first learn that they have an HPV infection when they go for a routine gynecologic examination and are informed that they have a positive Pap smear. If a woman is diagnosed to have an HPV infection her partner would benefit from learning whether he also has an infection. The goal is to minimize the chances that the infection continues to be transmitted between partners and to ensure that the man is treated so that the man will not be a potential future source of infection to anybody.
How long after sexual contact will genital warts appear?
HPV infections can have a long incubation period. The time period over which HPV infections will be detectible can range from several months to over a year after initial contact. The low risk 6 and 11 HPV strains have a duration of 6 months while the high risk 16 and 18 strains have a duration of 12 months.
Can a person be the source of an infection without having any symptoms?
Most people do not realize that they are infected and do not have any signs or symptoms of an infection. They frequently caught the infection from somebody who also did not realize that they were infected.
Asymptomatic shedding is common and is an important way by which infection is spread between partners. Asymptomatic shedding refers to the situation where the person who is infected does not have detectable growths yet is shedding and transmitting small amounts of viral particles to their partner who will then get infected.
Infections occur more frequently after sexual activity because abrasion and localized trauma allow easier entry of the HPV virus through the skin. A reservoir of infection underneath the surface of the skin is then established which will serve as the source of the future spread of infection.
The term Cancer Charlie was originally coined for men whose female sexual contacts developed cancer of the cervix because the man was an asymptomatic carrier of the high risk 16/18 strains. The term Cancer Charlie also refers to a gay man who is transmitting the high-risk strains to their male partner who then gets infected and may develop an HPV-related malignancy.
If my partner has an HPV infection, does that mean that he/she has been unfaithful?
The fact that a person has an HPV infection indicates that they were exposed to the HPV virus by a current or past partner. One should always first look at who were their most recent past partners in the last 6 months. However, the infection may also have been acquired years ago, been effectively contained by the body’s immune system and only recently activated when the individual’s immune system became compromised.
Do condoms help decrease the spread of HPV infections?
Condoms significantly decrease the chances of getting an HPV infection. Condoms are not a perfect barrier to infection, as they can easily break, ride up on the shaft of the penis, leave the base of the penis exposed and are not protective of those areas that are not covered by the condom. Despite these common issues, condoms are still the best defense against HPV infections.