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The HPV incubation period is the time between exposure to one of the more than 100 human papillomaviruses, and the first appearance of symptoms. These symptoms are usually either warts on the genitals or abnormal cancer-causing skin growths on the penis or cervical region. It is difficult to determine a precise incubation period because this varies significantly, even among the same virus types. While many patients may show symptoms within two to three months of exposure, sometimes the first symptoms won’t occur for several years. Secondly, the end of the HPV incubation period may be missed if regular exams like PAP smears aren’t performed, since the cancer-causing forms of these viruses may not have any obvious signs, initially. This is why women who have sex with multiple partners, usually into their 30s, are advised to have yearly PAP smears, which can detect HPV types that cause unusual skin growths on the cervix, and can aid in early detection of cervical cancer.
The irregularity of the HPV incubation period is challenging. People exposed to the virus might need to wait for several years before knowing they are or aren’t contagious. Alternately, when patients show signs of one of these viruses, they may have no way of knowing when they contracted it. The patient could have been exposed a month ago, a year ago or longer, suggesting all partners for at least the last two years should be notified.
Generally, it is much easier to detect early signs of these viruses than it is to determine a stable HPV incubation period. The recommendation for regular PAP smears is an important part of detection, but it is also valuable to survey the outer genitals and report to doctors any signs of warts, which may be single or may grow together. Those who think they may have been exposed to HPV should see their doctors early, and a physical evaluation of the inner genitalia or the vagina and anus may reveal warts that aren’t readily apparent.
It’s easy to assume that the presence of warts suggests the HPV incubation period has ended in a noncancerous form of HPV. Contrarily, presence of genital warts puts people at greater risk for cancerous forms of these viruses because they increase the general risk that patients have been exposed to more than one HPV form. Doctor recommendations on continued check-ups if any type of genital HPV is found should be followed closely.
People least likely to get HPV are those who are not sexually active or who are in longstanding monogamous partnerships. Those most likely to contract one or more of these viruses have multiple sexual partners. Using male or female condoms may help reduce risk. Another approach is to inoculate people against the virus, which may help prevent some of the more cancerous forms of HPV, but is only available for women.