The Doc Is In: Dealing with HPV

Got a health question? Don’t trust those “Doctors” at the University Health Center? Are you scared of Web M.D. because it always tells you you’re gonna die? Ask a real doctor, like our friend Dr. Lissa Rankin. She’s here every Thursday to answer whatever you throw at her – even peeing after sex – so ask away. Leave your question in the comments or send it over to us. Don’t be shy; she’s waiting for ya!

Q: I am 23-years-old and have been with my boyfriend for 6 years. I got the Gardasil shot last year and my paps have been fine until I got my last Gardasil shot. The doctor told me my pap was abnormal a couple months after my 3rd shot. Was the shot what caused the adnormal pap? The other doctor took a look and did not find anything so she did not do a biospy.

I went back 8 months later and she found a small wart and removed it. I do not know what to do or how to feel? Should I worry now that I have HPV? Should I stop having sex? My boyfriend has not had any problem and I heard that they can not be tested anyway. What can I do to prevent getting warts? Sorry to ask, but we have been having oral sex as well does that mean we both have it in our mouth? I just do not understand what I did wrong. I have been on birth control as well. PLEASE HELP… I only been having sex with one person for 6 years but I feel so helpless.

A: I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with an abnormal Pap smear and HPV. But believe me- you’re not alone. Up to 80% of us will contract HPV at some point in our life, and HPV vaccination isn’t perfect. Gardasil only guards against the four most common strains of HPV, but there are many more.

No, the vaccine didn’t give you HPV or cause your abnormal Pap smear. It doesn’t work that way. It may simply have been given too late.  You may have contracted HPV before you received the full series of vaccinations and the virus is just wreaking havoc now. There’s no way to know whether you already had HPV or whether you just caught it, but it’s a strain the vaccine doesn’t cover.

As for how you feel, feel whatever it is you genuinely feel. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re one of many who deals with this every day. But I certainly understand if you feel embarrassed, ashamed, betrayed, or bummed out.  Contracting a sexually transmitted infection has a way of making you feel about two inches tall. (I know. I caught HPV too. It can happen to anyone.)

Should you stop having sex? That’s a personal decision. It’s entirely possible that your boyfriend gave you the HPV in the first place since you’ve only had sex with one person. When I was diagnosed with an abnormal Pap smear for the first time and told the guy who is now my husband, he said, “That’s so weird! All of my girlfriends have had abnormal Pap smear.” Duh, dude. It’s you! So your guy probably already has it and most likely gave it to you.

You certainly should tell him about your diagnosis. And condoms can help protect you from transmitting it if you wind up in future relationships. But even condoms aren’t perfect, since infectious vulvar skin can still touch exposed scrotal or perineal skin, putting you at risk. To some degree, you just have to do the best you can and surrender the rest to the Universe.

Can it cause oral warts? Yes. Very rarely, HPV can cause warts on the larynx, but these are extremely uncommon.

Remember, you did nothing wrong, sweetie. You got the vaccination, have been careful to select a partner, and care enough to ask these questions. You should be proud of yourself for being so aware, so conscientious, and so health-conscious. I’m sorry you’re in this situation and I understand that you feel helpless, but I know you’re going to be okay.

Find out more about HPV here.

Wishing you peace and health,
Dr. Lissa

– Dr. Lissa Rankin’s book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in Fall 2010. She invites you to join her Pink online community (www.owningpink.com/forum) or read more of her writing at Owning Pink (www.owningpink.com).

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