How to deal with an HPV scare
March 20, 2006 2:46 PM   Subscribe

So my girlfriend got the dreaded phone call last night...

Last night my girlfriend of a month received THE call from an ex. He told her that he has just had an HPV1 outbreak and a woman that he has been with since my girlfriend has had one as well. She told me about it the moment she found out, last night, at 5am.

We have both agreed that the best course of action is for her to see a doctor to get checked out ASAP. I'm generally cautious about reading medical information off of the internet but I found a previous askme that relied on the assumption that there was no test for men. I've been tested fairly recently and haven't been very sexually active, so I will wait and see for her results.

We basically just spent the weekend having (safe) sex and connecting, so I would consider myself exposed. If she gets tested today, she won't know for about 10 days. What do we do until then?

I want to be able to communicate to my girlfriend that I still want to be with her, because one of the things she told me was "Nobody will want to be with me anymore". I feel like I can be realistic enough about the city (Montreal) and demographic (Hipster) we live in to not sweat it.

Do I basically just say "love is a battlefield", and that I still want to be with her?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (24 answers total)

Well, you can tell her that pretty much everyone has HPV.

Seriously, arm yourself with information.
posted by padraigin at 3:13 PM on March 20, 2006

Brow n's human papilloma virus (genital warts)

What do we do until then?
You can reduce your risk of transmitting HPV to a sexual partner by abstaining from sex, by finding other ways to express intimacy, by avoiding contact with any wart, and/or by using condoms correctly and consistently every time you have sex. Like all safer sex methods (with the exception of abstinence) using condoms is not 100% safe -- genital warts not covered by a condom can still transmit the virus, but condoms are still a crucial step to minimize risk for people who continue to be sexually active.
previous askme that relied on the assumption that there was no test for menMost men with HPV don't have any symptoms and so diagnosing HPV in men is difficult. Since there is no treatment for asymptomatic HPV, most men are not treated. It is possible for men to think they have no symptoms when they actually do. Sometimes a medical provider can see small warts that have gone unnoticed, particularly if they are right inside the opening of the penis. Do I basically just say "love is a battlefield", and that I still want to be with her?
I don't know dude, HPV isn't that bad for you. I guess the question is how big of a deal is it for you to tell future partners you have HPV.
posted by geoff. at 3:13 PM on March 20, 2006

Yep. 80% of us (I should say, people in the US) have HPV1, either on our mouths or genitals, so it's not like it's easy to avoid if you're sexually active. You can of course do things to prevent the liklihood of transmission (depending, of course, where her infection, IF SHE HAS ONE is, and if a condom even covers it), like not making skin to skin contact with her blisters/lesions when she's having an outbreak IF SHE EVER DOES. Some folks carry it and never have symptoms, although if they do have it they can still transmit it WITHOUT symptoms.

It's not the end of the world, or your sex life, and for the majority of us, it's something we live with every day.
posted by tristeza at 3:14 PM on March 20, 2006

Read this thread.

I think the main concern for her is to start getting Pap tests, since HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancer.
posted by driveler at 3:16 PM on March 20, 2006

Just don't panic—it may very likely be that he contracted it from his new girlfriend. Your girlfriend should get tested, just in case he had it before, but in all likelihood, he probably caught it from the new girl.
posted by limeonaire at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2006

Wait, what's an "outbreak" of HPV?? Herpes has outbreaks, I've never heard of this (which is why I think I misread the question as herpes)
posted by tristeza at 3:18 PM on March 20, 2006

IANAD, and she/you should definitely see one who IAD, but I will venture to say, if just to comfort you a little, that HPV seems to be one of those things that a lot of people have and just don't know it.

Here's an interesting stat (one that I heard many times when I worked at a community health center) from what seems to be a reputable source:
Nearly three out of four Americans between the ages of 15 and 49 have been infected with genital HPV in their lifetime.

There's a good chance that you (and many of your exes and futures) already have it. Most battery tests for STDs don't include it. I had to specifically ask for it when I wanted to get it checked out.

As I understand it, the strands of HPV that don't give women cervical cancer are nasty (when they breakout that is, most don't), but harmless. See a doctor, get real advice from one of those, keep being as safe as you can be, take good care of yourself (diet, exercise, all that helps prevent outbreaks), and not worry about it too much.

One more thing... STDs are really scary... sometimes it's just as important to see a counselor as it is to see a medical doctor. The emotionally toll is often worse than the physical one.
posted by lalalana at 3:21 PM on March 20, 2006

I am going to second or third the folks saying this is no big deal. I didn't realize people had HPV scares. Everyone has HPV. You should see a doctor mostly so she can tell you the same thing and not to sweat it.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:31 PM on March 20, 2006

And even if she does end up having HPV, she should be aware that it IS possible for the body to rid itself of HPV.

Case in point: last spring I had a pap smear that showed High Risk HPV (the bad kind). My most recent pap smear (January) was clean.

But yeah. When I was diagnosed with it last year I had those same feelings.
posted by elisabeth r at 3:34 PM on March 20, 2006

Yes, your girlfriend needs to get to a doctor immediately. Arm yourself with information from reputable sites (like Planned Parenthood or the Center for Disease Control).

What do you do until she gets her results back? Cuddle. Let her know that you love her. It's not the end of the world. She is not dirty.

I empathize with your girlfriend. I got it when I was in college, and was diagnosed after an abnormal Pap. I came home from the clinic crying because the nurse gave me the worst case scenario (uterine cancer at age 19!).

If she does test positive, it's easy and relatively painless to get them removed. Actually, the diagnostic test (to get the tissue sample) was more uncomfortable than the procedure to remove the warts. Both procedures didn't feel any worse than menstrual cramps, and the discomfort only lasted a few minutes anyway.

The good news was that my current boyfriend didn't catch it (I'd gotten it from an ex). And I haven't had an outbreak since they were removed. My pap smears have been normal ever since (15+years).
posted by luneray at 3:42 PM on March 20, 2006

The strains of HPV that cause warts are NOT the same strains that cause cervical cancer.

This means that even if she never has an "outbreak" (which I assume here means warts?) she could still very well have HPV (from another partner, even) and needs to have regular paps. HPV is almost always silent and she might have had it long before the last partner who called and freaked her out. Paps, paps, paps, paps.

Also, having warts removed does NOT mean you're free of the virus, and you can still transmit it to your partner asymptomatically. Most cases are transmitted w/o symptoms.
posted by tristeza at 4:06 PM on March 20, 2006

Dan Savage on HPV.
posted by malp at 4:12 PM on March 20, 2006

Third or fourth the 'don't worry, be pappy' crowd. It can be terribly scary to hear of this stuff, but it's not likely a Big Deal as long as she keeps an eye on her cervix (not literally, of course! Heh.) and gets treated right away after irregular smears.
posted by fish tick at 4:19 PM on March 20, 2006

don't worry, be pappy

What fish tick said, a dozen times over.

And dude, "The Dreaded Phone Call" is not about HPV. It might feel like it right now, but it isn't. If this is all you have to be worried about, consider yourself lucky.
posted by ambrosia at 5:19 PM on March 20, 2006

Ambrosia is right.

Here's the thing. People are potentially giving you diseases every day. Some could be totally fatal. The only difference is your winkle is not the point of embarkation/debarkation.

We have this thing about sex in this country. IT'S DIRTY. (if your doing it right, anyway). Everything that has to do with sex is nasty, somehow.

So you may get a wart on your winkle. Big frigg'n deal.

You know how to NOT spread a disease. Common sense, honest with people around you, and good hygiene - right?

And not spreading a disease attached to your winkle is pretty darn easy, too. It's not like you have typhoid.
posted by tkchrist at 6:06 PM on March 20, 2006

Yeah, seriously, the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night is the one that comes from the morgue. This is not to knock the shock you and your girlfriend are going through, but honestly, this is the most common STI (the majority of us probably have it) and is easy to deal with. Reassure her that you don't think she's somehow "tainted" and encourage her to get regular pap smears if she doesn't already. If you don't have it and you two would like to lower your chances of getting it, use a condom (though that will only lower your chance, not reduce it entirely to zero).
posted by scody at 6:10 PM on March 20, 2006

Just in case it wasn't a typo or some other goof -- if by HPV1 you mean human papilloma virus 1, then whoever told you they had some sort of genital outbreak of it is full of it -- generally you see types 6, 11, 13, 16, or 35 (though there are more, and a guy) as genital infections and only 6 and 11 form visible warts, with a low risk of anogenital carcinoma; serotype 1 is plantar warts, or the type you find on your feet and hands.

If this is supposed to be HSV-1, then we are talking cold sores. You can get a genital infection of HSV-1, but it is not nearly as severe as 2; however, unless she just broke up with this guy (i. e. two or three weeks ago), she would already know if she had a herpes simplex infection.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 7:31 PM on March 20, 2006

elisabeth r is correct. Although it used to be thought that HPV was chronic in all cases it now appears that many people who are exposed to HPV clear it naturally from their bodies. The number is about 40%. When it is present it can be removed and dealt with without too much problem, but some pain. This is true for men and women. It's also not completely an STD since one can have warts on thier hands and self-inoculate the genitals with the virus, leading to a genital outbreak.

This is something to watch but not something to panic over. HPV can be spread from person to person even when no warts are visible. It's a fairly common disease.
posted by OmieWise at 7:36 PM on March 20, 2006

I had an HPV scare myself with a crap doctor who made my life hell for a while. She shouldn't freak out too hard. HPV is very very very common -- my NEW gyno said it's like the common cold of sexually transmitted diseases. As many other people have said, neither you nor she is "dirty" now because honestly, it is so incredibly damn normal to come up with this at some point. She needs to get a pap smear. If it comes up with anything funny, they may do what's called a colp (or is it culp, I always misspell it) which won't be a lot of damn fun but won't be too terribly bad either. Her doctor will take her from there. I had a colp and came back with nothing. So far afterwards, nothing. Like luneray, I've had totally normal paps since.

I can't say this enough -- my doctor was an asshole about this. She really fucked with my head. If her doctor is acting like there's something terribly wrong with her for suspecting she might have gotten HPV, she probably needs a doctor that is somewhat less holier-than-thou. I'm sure that if your girl needs a new doctor, the women of MeFi (assuming any are in your area) could give some pointers toward good GYNs.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:24 PM on March 20, 2006

You ask whether there is an HPV test for men. This is really two questions in one.

If you get a bump on your business, there's a simple way to test whether it's a wart. Soak a paper towel in vinegar and hold it over the bump for a few minutes. If the bump turns white, it's almost definitely HPV. If it doesn't turn white, it may be something else (...which means you should show it to a doctor, in case it's a serious something else).

But if you have no symptoms currently, then no, you can't get tested for the presence of the virus.

(Okay, okay, in theory, they could look at some tissue samples under a microscope. That's what they do when they give women PAP smears; they're not actually looking for the virus itself, but for microscopic cell changes that often accompany it. But women get cervical cancer, so looking at their cervical tissue is worth the effort. You're unlikely to get anything cancer from HPV, so in practice I'd be shocked if a doctor was willing to do that lab work on you — and even more shocked if an insurance company was willing to pay for it.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:21 AM on March 21, 2006

For that matter, I should add, if your girlfriend has a bump on her business, the vinegar test should also work.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:22 AM on March 21, 2006

Just to be precise, there's emerging evidence that rectal cancer can be mediated by HPV, and it's quite common (especially for gay men) to have rectal warts. If you aren't engaging in ass play then it's very unlikely that you'd get rectal warts, but if you are, it's something to keep an eye on.
posted by OmieWise at 5:38 AM on March 21, 2006

(I stand corrected. Thanks, Omie.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2006

Everybody gets pecker bumps sometimes.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:28 AM on March 25, 2006

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