The question of whether human papillomavirus can go away on its own has been discussed quite a bit here on EmpowHer. HPV is a virus that infects the skin and genitals. Some high-risk types have been linked to cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat.
An HPV infection can clear, meaning you no longer test positive. However, the virus can remain present but dormant in your system. It may not go away entirely.
According to this Harvard Medical School clinical review:
“The observation that HPV prevalence has two peaks—women under 30 years and those in their mid-50s—has led to the concept of HPV latency with later reactivation of infection. According to this hypothesis, HPV infections can be dormant in patients with normal immunity but be reactivated at a later age. Women with latent infections will have a negative HPV test.”
HPV test results can change from positive to negative within 1 to 2 years after initially testing positive as the body clears the infection. After that time, a woman may test negative but a woman’s immune system may not be able to suppress the virus from becoming active again.
Currently, there is no routine test for men. “However, some doctors are urging anal Pap tests for gay and bisexual men, who are at higher risk of anal cancer caused by HPV. In an anal Pap test, the doctor collects cells from the anus, and then has them checked for abnormalities in a lab,” wrote WebMD.(6)
Here are some other HPV facts to help you understand more about the virus:
- It is estimated that 75 percent of reproductive-age men and women have been infected with one or more types of HPV virus.(1,5)
- An estimated 6 million new infections occur each year, and as many as 20 million Americans are infected with the genital form of the virus.(1)
- There are over 200 strains of HPV. About 40 are spread by sexual contact. The most common strains that cause the majority of cervical cancers are HPV 16 and HPV 18.(1,2,3)
- More than 95 percent of HPV infections do not cause any symptoms.(1) The strains that cause genital warts are thought to be HPV 6 and 11.(6) These are not the same high-risk types that may lead to cervical cancer.
- There is no cure for HPV, but you can get treatment for symptoms. Genital warts can be treated either by removal or use of a cream.(5) Abnormal HPV and Pap tests may need to be redone, then your doctor will decide if a colposcopy or biopsy should be done to look for cell abnormalities.
- HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Wearing a condom may help prevent it from being spread via genitals. But wearing a condom will not totally prevent transmission since skin-to-skin contact can still occur.(1) Abstinence is the only definite way to prevent HPV transmission.
- There is also a newer vaccine called Gardasil 9 . It has been approved by the FDA. It offers additional protection against other strains of HPV that are thought to cause 90 percent of cervical cancers.
Vaccines are intended to protect those who have not been exposed to the virus, not as a treatment. Gardasil 9 is also approved for use in males 9 to 15 years of age.(6)
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Everything You Need to Know About HPV. Womans Health Magazine.com. Retrieved April 17, 2016.http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/hpv-facts-0
2) Human Papillomavirus, HPV. Healthy Woman.org. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
3) Pap and HPV Testing. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
4) Goodman, Annekathryn M.D. HPV testing as a screen for cervical cancer. BMJ 2015; 350 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h2372 (Published 30 June 2015)
5) Facts about HPV. McGill.Ca. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
6) HPV Infection in Men. WebMD. Retrieved April 17, 2016.