Yes, it does, but...

One of the first questions individuals who just learned that they have been infected with HPV is: Does HPV go away on its own?  In most cases, the answer is Yes. However, there is no single best answer to this question, because it depends on a multitude of factors.  Lets take a closer look.

How long does HPV last?

Overall, an HPV infection is more likely to clear on its own in males, with 50% and 75% clearing within 6 and 12 months of infection, respectively (1). 

In women, cervical infections take longer to clear than other anogenital and oropharyngeal infections (2).

Immune system

A healthy immune system is required for the removal of virus from the body.  Individuals with any kind of immunodeficiency tend to remain infected for a longer period of time, some of them develop persistent infection.

Weak immune system is also associated with faster progression to cervical cancer caused by HPV infection.

Genes matter

There is strong evidence that genetics play a role in the clearance of HPV infection. Genetics and HPV

For example, high-risk HPV infection in women with CYP1A1 polymorphism tends to clear 20% sooner than those without polymorphism (3).

HPV types play a significant role

There are over 100 types of HPV with each type taking a different amount of time to get removed from the body.  About 40 of them are completely asymptomatic, so we don’t even know if we have them or not.

The highest likelihood of virus clearance is associated with HPV types 16 and 58.  But, HPV-16 may persist longer if a person is co-infected with another HPV type or a completely different pathogen.

HPV types 18 and 31 have the lowest probability of spontaneous resolution of infection (4).

In general, high-risk HPV types tend to take longer to clear than low-risk types.  In one study, 54% women infected with high-risk HPV were still positive after 1 year, compared to 34% of women with low-risk type infection.

In heterosexual men, HPV-6, HPV-11 and HPV-16 was found to clear in half the cases by 6 months, while HPV-18 persisted 2 months longer.

Pregnancy and postpartum period

HPV clearance is more likely to occur in the postpartum period than it is during pregnancy.

One study that included both HIV-negative and HIV-positive women with HPV infection, found that HIV-negative women cleared HPV in 3 months, while HIV-positive women cleared the infection in 4 months postpartum (5). 

Sexual behavior

Chances of clearing the virus from the body are lower in individuals who are sexually active with multiple partners, because they are at risk of getting reinfected, thus prolonging the viral clearance time (6).

Tobacco…as could be expected

Smoking increases the risk of persistent HPV infection (7).  It is also associated with higher likelihood of acquiring genital HPV infection.

Smoking and HPV

Race matters, but we don’t know why

When considering high-risk HPV types, it takes African American women twice as long to clear the infection, than it takes the women of European American ancestry (8).  The reasons for this are unknown. 

More than one HPV-type: more is not necessarily better

In 64% cases, individuals are infected with more than one HPV type, making it more difficult to estimate the time it will take to clear the infection (9). 

Other infections: bad news

Coinfection with Chlamydia trachomatis is associated with longer persistence of HPV infection (10).

Similarly, HIV-positive individuals are more likely to have persistent infection (11).

Other factors worth considering

IUD use, especially levonorgestrel-containing IUDs take longer time to clear the infection (12).

Male circumcision appears to have no effect on the incidence or clearance of HPV infection (13).  Although some studies suggest that circumcision may speed up the clearance of certain HPV types.  More research needs to be done to be certain.

High-risk cervical HPV infections are associated with prolonged persistence of oral HPV infections if such are present (14).

Group counseling focusing on HPV risk factors tends to shorten the duration of HPV infection (15).

Interestingly, there is also some evidence suggesting that probiotics may help eliminate the virus from the cervix.  In one study, 29% probiotic users cleared the virus compared to 19% of placebo users.  However, it was a pilot study involving only 54 women which makes the findings still unreliable, but interesting.  More research is needed to come up with strong recommendations one way or another (16).

Summary

The good news is that HPV usually goes away on its own.  As a VERY general rule, most HPV infections will disappear on their own in 6-12 months.  This time to clearance may be prolonged by a number of factors mentioned above, including sexual activity (multiple partners), tobacco or IUD use and co-infections, such as HIV or Chlamydia.

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