Women can have unclear Pap tests for many different reasons. Sometimes HPV-related cell changes are the cause, but other causes such as yeast infections can also result in an abnormal Pap test. To help sort it out, it’s not uncommon to repeat the Pap test in a few months or, sometimes with women over age 21, to do an HPV test. Even when HPV is involved, 90% of infections clear up on their own within 24 months, particularly in women younger than 30 years of age.
What if you do have HPV, though? Well, nearly 50%-80% of sexually active people have at least one HPV infection in their lifetimes. The virus is most often harmless and the immune system usually does clear it naturally, but it’s important for women to have regular Pap tests and, when appropriate, HPV tests. Women age 26 and under should also talk with their healthcare provider about getting an HPV vaccine. If you follow-up with your clinic as they recommend, it’s likely you’ll be fine.
As for your partner: Most sexually active men have HPV at some point, too, and the virus is usually silent and harmless. There’s no specific test recommended for men who have no symptoms. However, consistent condom use has shown to significantly reduce the risk of transmission of HPV. So, follow up on your test as recommended by your clinician and don’t get over anxious!
–Shobha Krishnan, MD