How Can I Protect Myself from HPV Transmission, Particularly If My Partner Is Infected?

Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the different ways human papillomavirus (HPV) is transmitted and how it can be prevented.


How can I protect myself from HPV transmission, particularly if my partner is infected?

Paul Offit: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

I think when people learn about HPV, or human papillomavirus, they ask the reasonable question, you know, “How is it transmitted and how can I avoid getting it?” There are really two ways that the virus is transmitted. One is when a baby passes through a birth canal that is contaminated with human papillomavirus, they can acquire that virus, and then they can have a disease called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, which can be quite devastating. It can present in one of two ways, it can present just as recurrent warts on the vocal chords, or it can present as a child or even adolescent who has basically a lower respiratory tract disease that really mimics, frankly, cystic fibrosis. It can be a chronic infection that is very difficult to treat.

The second way and most common way, obviously, that HPV is transmitted from one person to another is via sexual contact. So either a man can transmit the virus to a woman or vice versa. Now one can reasonably argue well, if the man is wearing a condom during the sexual act, wouldn't that prevent the transmission of the virus? And although it's true that I think it lessens the transmission of the virus, it's so contagious that even the act of taking off the condom can inadvertently transmit the virus from one to another.

So, it's a difficult virus to avoid; witness the fact that about 80 percent of the adult population has been infected with this virus. So, given that it's that difficult to avoid, I think then one can reasonably assume really the only best … or the best single way to prevent it is via vaccination.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center