Anonymous on August 11, 2011

My partner’s genital warts went away after treatment...can I still catch them?

My boyfriend just came home after being away for four years. He got tested for STDs and found out he has genital warts. I was tested too, and I’m clear. But we’re due to get married so I want to know: if his warts are removed, can I still contract the virus? Can I only get it if he has an outbreak?

answered by Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on August 11, 2011

Thanks for your great questions. I’m glad you’re taking the time to learn about genital warts and how to protect yourself. Your doctor is the best person to talk to about your personal health. However, I’m happy to offer you some thoughts to get you started...

Yes, genital warts can be contagious even after treatment. The virus that causes genital warts can spread even after the warts have been treated and are no longer visible. Genital warts are caused by some types of the human papillomavirus (HPV)...and it is very easy to catch HPV from genital-to-genital contact. Even when the warts have been treated, the virus may still be present in the skin. In other words, it’s still possible to spread and/or catch the virus after the warts are gone.

Moreover, it’s possible to have HPV and not know it. The HPV that causes genital warts doesn’t always cause symptoms so it’s possible to have HPV and not have genital warts. HPV can live in the body for a long time without causing symptoms. In most people, the body does a great job of fighting the virus and it will eventually clear from the body…usually within 6-12 months. But in some people, the virus sticks around for longer...

Just so you know, another type of HPV, different from the type that causes genital warts, can sometimes cause cervical cancer in women. Luckily, there’s a test available for women that looks for this type of HPV – it’s called a Pap test. A Pap test looks for cells that don’t look right as a result of HPV infection, and that may lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women get annual Pap tests to look for this type of HPV.

Bottom line: HPV is easy to catch and it is treatable, but not curable. Using latex condoms or dental dams with all sexual activity can go a long way to prevent you catching HPV from your partner. However, I also encourage you to discuss this issue with your doctor and keep monitoring your health under your doctor’s supervision. You can learn more about HPV risks, symptoms, testing and treatment in our HPV Overview.

One last thought for consideration...

Because people can have HPV and not show symptoms, getting diagnosed with genital warts doesn’t mean your boyfriend has slept with someone else. It’s possible that he’s had the virus for a while and it just started causing genital warts. But, if you think your boyfriend might have had another sexual partner, I encourage you to talk to him about both of you getting tested for STDs across the board...including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, herpes 1& 2, and hepatitis B and C.

It may sound like a lot, but knowing if you have an STD is the first step to treating it. Many STDs are curable and all of them have effective treatments that can help you keep you healthy. In other words, if you both get tested, you’ll know each other’s STD status for sure...and you’ll have the information you need to get treated, if necessary, and take the appropriate precautions in your future sex life together.

I hope this information helps you and your partner practice safer sex and take care of each other’s health and well-being.

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.

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