It Takes More than Handwashing to Prevent STDs

New Partner or ongoing relationship, it’s a common concern as to how we aren’t going to share our sexual colonization or infections.

Handwashing, masks, and keeping to your own glass are all great health strategies for prevention of covid, colds, flu, even measles, but STD prevention is just a bit more complex.

Condoms have been and are still proven to be excellent STD protection. Especially for diseases actually transmitted by semen or cervical mucus. So all of us, regardless of sexual orientation may want to consider a type of condom during intercourse.

Generally speaking almost anyone can have latent HPV and thus be able to transmit the infection to a susceptible person through skin to skin contact. Those immune to a particular disease cannot contact that disease, so those vaccinated against HPV cannot get those strains they were vaccinated against. Vaccine is indicated for all men and women up to the age of 45.

Knowing whether you are susceptible to an infection, immune to an infection, or transmitting an infection is so critical; but trying to get all those questions answered, is not always possible, but really requires a personal consultation with your gyno if you are a female. If you are a male, it’s even harder to know if you are able to transmit any STDs including HPV infection.

Vaccinations, in those youth who are not yet HPV infected is virtually 100% protective against that type of infection. Literally it was up to your parents to insure that you are not able to transmit infections. The vaccine Gardasil is approved to protect you from both cervical and anal cancer, vulvar disease, anal cancers. It protects males and females against the main causes of genital warts as well.

Now that we have antibody testing for Covid immunity, many patients ask about how we test for immunity to HPV. Frustratingly, we don’t have those tests for HPV. Unlike the simple blood test we can draw to see if you are immune to chicken pox, or German Measles (rubella) or the cat feces disease of toxoplasmosis, there is no immunologic test of protection that has yet to be identified for HPV disease. So how do you know if your vaccine is still working? It seems that we should be able to find the antibody produced in your system after being vaccinated and then see if it is still in your blood. But that’s probably not going to really tell us what we need to know. Even after Hep B vaccination, eventually proof of the vaccination slips out of the blood stream of many individuals who have still been proven to be resistant to infection. But our body has a way of quick immune memory when re-exposed to something we were vaccinated against. This is called an animistic response, and it helps us respond.

For individuals who had HPV in the past, our immune response is so robust about 9/10 individuals will clear their virus on their own, thus they can not pass on infection either.

Women usually clear in about 2 years. Guys typically, we think, clear faster. Perhaps in as fast as 6 months. So keep using those condoms and spermacide for the first couple of years that you have a new partner. And then see if HPV testing is indicated for you.

This is something we can address during your yearly gynecologic examination.


Suzanne Trupin, MD, Board Certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist and owner of Women's Health Practice, Hada Cosmetic Medicine, and Hatha Yoga and Fitness

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