Genital warts are small fleshy growths that can form on almost any part of the genitals. These warts form due to infection with the human papillomavirus, which comes in 70 types, including varieties that only cause warts elsewhere on the body. HPV spreads easily between people of both genders with sexual contact. You can have an active infection without having any visible warts, especially since they can form on the cervix, inside the anus, or even in your mouth and throat.
Most people discover warts on their own, then see a doctor for confirmation based on a visual inspection. Women without visible warts are often diagnosed after returning abnormal results on a routine Pap smear. A DNA test is also used to verify the type of HPV for women to determine their cervical cancer risk.
Genital warts can develop from a few weeks to several months after infection.
Aside from the visible warts, signs of an infection itchiness in the vagina, anus, or on the penis. Pain and discomfort are rare, but possible during intercourse.
Genital warts can be seen or felt on the vulva/penis, cervix, anus or urethra. Even if uncommon, it is possible to find warts on other parts of the body such as lips, tongue, palate, and throat.
Genital warts are caused when the skin becomes infected with the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are many different strains of HPV and many of these can live around or in the genitals, but only a couple of HPV strains cause genital warts.
HPV is spread via sexual contact. An individual with genital warts can pass it on to someone else by having penetrative vaginal or anal sex, but its also possible for the virus to be passed from skin to skin contact. In some cases, it can spread via oral sex and affect an individual’s lips, mouth or throat.
Genital warts are usually passed on while warts are present on the skin. However, in rare cases the HPV which causes the warts can be passed on after the warts have disappeared. In rare cases, if warts occur on the hand they may spread to the genitals. It’s also possible for warts to spread from the genitals to the anus, even without having anal sex.
Pregnant women who have genital warts may pass the virus to their baby during childbirth. However, this is very rare and the chances of it occurring are very slim.
HPV cannot be cured, but the warts themselves often clear up with no treatment.
If they are bothering you, your doctor can provide you with one of three gels to apply at home to remove them over time. There are also two stronger gel treatments that are administered by a doctor, in addition to manual removal of individual warts with minor surgery or the same cryotherapy used to freeze warts off other parts of the body. You can still spread HPV after treatment, so notify your sexual partners and practice safe sex.
Using a condom during vaginal or anal sex can reduce the risk of genital warts. However, since the warts can be contracted via skin to skin contact, condoms are not 100% effective in preventing them. For this reason, it’s important to avoid sexual contact with anyone who has visible warts.
There is a vaccine available called Gardasil which protects against four strains of HPV, including those which cause genital warts. Designed to be delivered to girls and boys aged 11 and 12, although it can be administered up to age 26, it is most effective when given to children before they are sexually active.