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Q & A with Dr. Cullins: STIs/STDs

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    I have been with my partner for one year and five months. I was recently diagnosed with genital warts. I need to know how long exactly it takes for genital warts to show up, and whether or not to believe if he has been faithful or not.

    The best way to find out whether or not a partner is faithful is to ask. While it is true that studies have shown that about 33 percent of sex partners are likely to lie about having other partners, ongoing communication between partners about their expectations for faithfulness is very important. Finding out that you are infected with a sexually transmitted infection may seem like a clear indication that your partner has had sex with someone else. But this is often not the case.

    Genital warts are caused by certain highly contagious, and very common, types of HPV human papilloma virus. Warts usually develop six weeks to six months after infection. But it may take longer. And very often, people with the types of HPV that cause genital warts have no symptoms. Sometimes, too, the warts are so small that people who are infected can't see them. Also, tiny warts can be hidden, unseen, in the folds of the anus, scrotum, vagina, or vulva.

    Genital warts are not only common, they also recur. This means that they may appear for a year, then disappear, then reappear two to six months later. Like other types of HPV, those that cause genital warts can be passed from one person to another at any time during an infection whether or not there are ever symptoms.

    There are many possible scenarios for infection. Partner A may pass the virus to partner B without knowing it. It is then possible for partner B to pass the virus back to partner A, without knowing it. If partner A then develops symptoms, it may seem that partner B was the one who had it first.

    It's also possible for partner B to have been infected without knowing it before having contact with partner A. If partner B's infection becomes stronger months later, the infection can be passed to A who may not develop symptoms for months more. So it may seem that partner B became infected during the relationship with partner A, when that is not the case.

    And then of course, partner B may have sex with partner C, who is infected and then pass the infection on to partner A.

Published: 02.28.06 | Updated: 04.17.07

This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have a medical problem, please call toll-free 1-800-230-PLAN for an appointment with the Planned Parenthood health center nearest you.

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