New or ongoing relationships, it's a common concern as to how we aren't going to share our infections. Handwashing, masks, and keeping to your own glass are all great health strategies, but STD prevention is just a bit more complex.
Condoms are good protection. Generally speaking almost anyone can have a quietly latent HPV and thus be able to transmit the infection to a susceptible person. Knowing whether you are susceptible to an infection, immune to an infection, or transmitting an infection is so critical; but trying to get all those questions answered, is not always possible, but really requires a personal consultation with your gyno if you are a female. If you are a male, it’s even harder to know if you are able to transmit an HPV infection.
Vaccinations, in those youth who are not yet HPV infected is virtually 100% protective against that type of infection. Literally it was up to your parents to insure that you are not able to transmit infection. If you have gotten a vaccine against the major types of HPV (16,18,6,11) if you had never contracted any of those viruses research tells us to tell our patients that for up to five years the data is holding that you are both protected aginst the disease and against the precancer and cancer it causes. The vaccine Gardasil is approved to protect you from both cervical and anal cancer, and it is approved for males as well. It protects males and females against the main causes of genital warts as well. In Europe there are some studies of patients of over 9 years after ,and the protection seems to be holding.
But it is hard to know if you are protected still. Unlike the simple blood test we can draw to see if you are immune to chicken pox, or German Measles (rubella) or the cat feces disease of toxoplasmosis, there is no immunologic test of protection that has yet to be identified for HPV disease. So how do you know if your vaccine is still working? It seems that we should be able to find the antibody produced in your system after being vaccinated and then see if it is still in your blood. But that's probably not going to really tell us what we need to know. Even after Hep B vaccination, eventually proof of the vaccination slips out of the blood stream of many individuals who have still been proven to be resistant to infection. But our body has a way of quick immune memory when re-exposed to something we were vaccinated against. This is called an animistic response, and it helps us respond.
For individuals who had HPV in the past and have now cleared their virus, are they protected too? A trickier question to answer. Again, we don't really have blood tests to know for sure, and only recently have we been able to get HPV tests that can help answer this question. You can be tested for HPV 16 and 18, as well as being tested for the whole group of HPV viruses that cause cervical cancer. You can begin to understand if you are possibly still infected, or if you have cleared your virus. If you haven't been tested, about 8 or 9 out of 10 women can rest assured that they have cleared their virus.
Women usually clear in about 2 years. Guys typically, we think, clear faster. Perhaps in as fast as 6 months. So keep using those condoms and spermacide for the first couple of years that you have a new partner. And then see if HPV testing is indicated for you.