Sexually transmitted infections and diseases are steadily on the rise. In fact, more than 2.5 million STIs were reported in the United States in 2021, marking a seven percent increase since 2017. It is more crucial than ever to remain vigilant and aware of your status, which may prove itself difficult when symptoms may not necessarily present themselves at first.

The most common sexually transmitted infection, human papilloma virus, also known as HPV, is one of those sleeper infections women need to be aware of and cautious about. With the virus able to lay dormant for several years before becoming symptomatic, it’s important to know proper sexual health protocol and how to protect yourself. If you find yourself asking just how long can HPV be dormant, let’s first dive deeper into the facts.

What is HPV?

There are about 80 million Americans estimated to be infected with HPV by one of its hundreds of different strains, though most do not show any symptoms. Why? The immune system is typically able to fight the viral infection without you knowing a thing, and the virus will most likely be rooted out of your system without needing treatment.

Spread by skin-to-skin contact, HPV may present itself as warts if symptomatic. Around 13 strains of HPV are linked to various cancers, including penile, cervical and some types of mouth and throat cancers. 

The virus lives in the skin and cells lining the inside of our body, able to pass between people through close skin to skin contact, most often during sex. If warts are presented, simply coming into contact with them can spread the disease as well. What is important to note is that most of us will have it at some point in our lifetime without it causing any harm. However, this does not mean that HPV is not a threatening disease. It should be taken very seriously.

How Long Can HPV Be Dormant?

HPV’s dormancy period can be worrisome for sexually active folks. Just how long can one be living with HPV and have no idea? The answer may surprise you.

Being HPV positive without presenting symptoms varies from person to person. For some, it may be months, while for others, it may be years. In fact, though this is only documented in extreme cases, the virus may lay dormant for decades. 

During its dormancy period, HPV is difficult to be detected by a test. However, if it becomes active later on, it would be picked up in cervical screening. It’s not easy to determine just how long the infection has been there, which means pinning down its dormancy period can be unreliable.

Luckily, unless you are immunosuppressed, HPV will probably go away on its own before you even detect it. 

How to Protect Yourself from HPV

If you want to protect yourself and lower the probability of contracting HPV, it is important to practice safe sex. Using tools like condoms and other barrier methods can not only protect you from unwanted pregnancy, but from contracting or spreading disease.

It is also recommended to receive the vaccine around age 12, or before you become sexually active, though you can still choose to get the vaccine until age 45. This will not only protect you from the STI, but from potential consequential diseases that may follow.

Lastly, it is crucial to know your status by getting tested. This should be done whenever you have a new partner, or if your partners are having sex with anyone else. And if you test positive, take the proper protocol without shaming yourself: around 80 percent of people will have an HPV infection at some point in their life, but only a small percentage of people will develop a cancer linked to HPV.