My new cervical screening test has shown that I’m positive for HPV! What does this mean?
What is HPV?
HPV is Human Papilloma Virus. There are over 100 different strains of the virus and around 40 of the strains preferentially infect the genital area.
How did I get HPV?
HPV is a sexually-acquired virus. Even if you were to have sex with a single partner in your life, using condoms every time, there is an 80% chance you will acquire HPV in your lifetime. HPV can be spread by contact between genital skin, so LGBQTI people can also get the virus.
Does this mean if have a sexually-transmitted disease?
No! HPV is so common (see above) that it is considered a normal, and almost unavoidable, part of sexual activity! HPV is NOT the same a HIV or HSV (the genital herpes virus), but I acknowledge that all those Hs and Vs can be confusing…
What can I do about the HPV infection?
Most people will have HPV at some time in their lives, and most people will clear the virus over months to years. About 5% of HPV persists, causing genital warts in 10% of people (“low-risk” strains of the virus) and pre-cancerous cervical changes or cervical cancer (and other cancers such as anal, vaginal, vulva, mouth, throat and penile cancers) in a much smaller percentage of people.
Do I have to tell my partner? Can I still have sex?
You do not have to tell your partner, although most women will, as HPV can also cause rare cancers in men. The problem is, there is no cure for HPV (apart from time for your immune system to fight it off), and men can’t really be tested for the presence of the virus. You do not have to stop having sex. Remember, most of the time the infection will not have any symptoms, and will not lead to any problems.
But I’ve always had normal pap smears! How can I have the virus? AKA, But I haven’t had sex for 6 years! How can I have the virus?
You will have had the virus for many years, with it remaining inactive, and you haven’t cleared it as yet. We only started testing for it in December 2017 – previously our only test was the pap smear. The virus is persistent but hasn’t caused any pre-cancerous changes in your cervix as yet.
You can consider the new test is an indicator of your sexual past, not your sexual present! It’s important to remember that the virus is VERY common and acquiring it is not a sign that anyone has been unfaithful.