Tested Positive For HPV, Will I Get Genital Warts?

DrSugar Answers: HPV Positive and Sexually Active

DrSugar is in the house! This week she's answering a question about preventing the spread of HPV.

Dear DrSugar,
I am sooooo scared about this. Just had a cervical biopsy and I just tested positive for HPV. I am in a severe panic. I probably gave it to my current boyfriend. Can we keep passing it back and forth to each other? I do not know what to do. So if I have HPV, will definitely get warts or not? Gosh I am paranoid; help me.
Worry Wart

First of all, I'm so glad you asked this question, since human papillomavirus (HPV) is so common. This question is the perfect springboard to discuss HPV and answer your questions specifically. To learn more about HPV, keep reading!

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines HPV as a very common infection that can be passed from person to person. Some of the types of HPV are spread through sexual contact. Sexually transmitted HPV can be spread through genital, oral, or anal sex. ACOG reports in its informational webpage that studies have suggested that at least three out of four people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection at some time in their lives. This really puts things in perspective in terms of how common this infection may really be!

There are about 40 types of HPV that can affect the genital region. Typically, there are no signs or symptoms of infection, as is the case with most sexually transmitted infections. The Mayo Clinic reports that a few types of HPV cause genital warts and some types cause abnormal changes of the cells of the cervix, which can lead to cancer. HPV may also be linked with cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, or penis. To answer your question specifically, since you have tested positive for HPV, it is possible that you may develop genital warts, but there is a possibility you may not, depending on which strain you have.

You mentioned that you are concerned that you may have given the virus to your current boyfriend. If you were having unprotected sex, this is a likely possibility. Condoms can help lower your chances of giving HPV to your sexual partners, if used all the time and with appropriate application. However, HPV can infect areas that are not covered by condoms and thus condoms may not fully protect against the spread of HPV. The only way to completely prevent giving or getting HPV is to not engage in oral, anal, or vaginal sex.

According to WomensHealth.gov, there is no cure for HPV. There are treatments for the changes that HPV can cause on the cervix, and genital warts can be treated as well. Sometimes the HPV virus just goes away on its own. If you had HPV and it went away on its own, you can still get HPV again. If your partner has HPV (unfortunately there is no FDA-approved HPV test for men), chances are that you and your partner are most likely infected with the same virus type, according to the American Society for Culposcopy and Cervical Pathology. They also report that several studies have indicated that "shared HPV" between partners does not "ping-pong" back and forth. However, there remains a lot about HPV that is not fully known — especially the answer to the "ping-pong effect" question, and thus, I would recommend talking with your physician or gynecologist about his or her recommendations for you, given that he/she is in the best position to give you personal medical advice.

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