My wife just found out that she has HPV. Does this mean I'll get genital warts? -- Sal, 28, Boston

First of all, if your wife has HPV, she might have gotten it from you. Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the US and more than half of sexually active guys and women will be infected with HPV at some time in their lives.  HPV is so common, in part, because most infections don’t cause any symptoms.  Either of you may have had HPV for years without knowing it—and you can spread the virus even if you have no visible symptoms.

There is no general HPV test for men, so unless you develop symptoms you will have to live with the uncertainty of whether you are infected or not.  The good news is that 9 out of 10 times, your body’s immune system will clear the virus within 2 years. Even if you are infected, the chance that you’ll develop genital warts is low--only about 1% of sexually active adults in the US has genital warts at any given time.

And even if you do develop warts, they can be removed with prescribed medications (though they often clear up on their own).

You should talk to your health care provider about getting the series of HPV vaccines.  The vaccines cannot cure an existing infection, but they can protect you from some of the most common of the 40 different types of HPV viruses.  In the meantime, since you know your wife has HPV, you should use condoms every time you have sex, since this is the best way to prevent transmission of the virus.

Dr. Harry Fisch is a board certified urologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical College of Cornell University. He’s here to answer reader questions in an effort to get guys to “man up about health.”