The question of how long one might have HPV before any warts or cervical cell changes (or other HPV-related conditions) are diagnosed is a thorny one, and causes understandable stress in many relationships.
My stock answer is "it can take weeks, months, or even years (no limit) after exposure to the virus before anything is detected clinically." Some in our message board community question that, saying they can't believe it might take a decade or longer before anything shows up or is found.
So, in my never ceasing quest to provide top-notch customer service to you, dear board user (and you all are in fact very dear to me) I recently solicited input from physicians/researchers who work with the Federal government and who have expertise in this area.
The responses were very helpful to me. My expert colleagues explained that while there isn't much scientific data here, there is a good amount of anecdotal information.
The consensus is emphatically that yes, HPV infection may be latent for many years, and no upper limit on this has been established. One recent study, I was told, demonstrated that persistent HPV infections (those that don't clear naturally) has been documented in college-age women for as long as 12 years. Of course, longer intervals are also possible.
In response to the scenario of, say, a woman who has been married and for 20+ years and who just recently had an HPV-related abnormal Pap, the answer was clear: we cannot definitively attribute her current diagnosis to infidelilty on either her or her husband's part.
Having said that, it doesn't prove that in such an example one partner hasn't been with someone else, only that we just don't know. It is not unreasonable, however, to suggest today's abnormal Pap is the result of an HPV infection contracted many years ago.
Last edited by Fredo on Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.